Sunday, September 4, 2011

Seoul seeks protection for Korean sailors on foreign ships

As Reported HERE
The Seoul government is striving to strengthen measures to ensure the safety of South Korean sailors aboard foreign ships as Somali piracy targeting its citizens continues, a government official said Sunday.

Following a recent series of piracy cases involving its nationals, it has toughened security rules on South-Korean registered vessels using maritime routes where piracy is rampant.

But it was not able to directly demand that foreign ships improve protection measures. Instead, it has urged a network of Korean sailors to seek ways to demand their firms provide better protection.

The government has stepped up such efforts in recent months since a Singaporean-registered ship carrying 25 crew members including four Koreans was seized by Somali pirates some 200 miles southeast of Mombasa, Kenya on April 30.

Some 4,000 Korean sailors are working for foreign firms.

“For South Korean vessels, we can track them down with a radar system and have made it mandatory for them to have a citadel (a bullet-proof security zone in a ship),” said the official, declining to be named.

“But foreign vessels carrying South Koreans are relatively vulnerable to piracy. We, thus, are trying to strengthen their security based on the (Korean) sailors’ cooperation.”

As part of efforts to protect them, the government has encouraged Korean sailors to report to the Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Ministry the names of their vessels, the list of Korean sailors on the foreign ships and their traveling routes, when they cruise through risky routes.

Such information would allow the government to act more promptly when another piracy case occurs to them, officials said. The government has also urged Korean sailors to ask their firms to install a citadel and civilian security staff.

Since Korean chemical freighter Samho Jewelry and its 21 crew were rescued by the Navy in January ― days after it was seized in the Arabian Sea, Korean firms have strengthened their protection measures.

Some observers said that due to such measures, Somali pirates seem to have changed their targets from Korean ships to foreign vessels carrying South Korean sailors.

Another reason Seoul wants to see better security measures for foreign ships is that it cannot actively engage in negotiations with pirates when a piracy case occurs to foreign vessels carrying its citizens.

Piracy is rife off the coast of lawless Somalia where armed pirates take to the seas in search of multimillion-dollar ransoms.

Somalia has been in a state of civil war for two decades and has not had a functioning central administration since Mohammed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991. The African country has a coastline facing one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.

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