South Korean commandos board a stranded submarine in 1996. A team of South Korean commandos are now on a hostage-rescue mission. Photo: Andrew Salmon/Asia Times
South Korean commandos board a stranded submarine in 1996. Photo: Asia Times / Andrew Salmon

Heralding a possible hostage-rescue operation, South Korea is deploying a destroyer with about 30 commandos aboard to the sea off Ghana, following last week’s seizure of three South Korean sailors from a fishing boat.

The 4,400-ton destroyer Munmu the Great is being re-tasked from international anti-piracy efforts off Oman and steaming toward the scene of the kidnapping, local news outlets reported Sunday, quoting foreign ministry officials. According to TV news reports on Monday, the vessel was carrying troops from the Naval Special Warfare Command and a machine-gun armed Lynx helicopter.

The Marine 711, a 455-ton fishing vessel, was seized by pirates off West Africa last week. The pirates, believed to be Nigerian, boarded the vessel from a speed boat. A total of 42 hostages, mostly Ghanaian, were released in the port of Tema, Ghana, but there has been no word of the three South Korean crew members and no ransom demands from the pirates.

President Moon Jae-in was briefed on the situation and ordered the redeployment of the Munmu last week, but the government had maintained a press embargo on the situation until the weekend, the Chosun Ilbo reported.

“The government is making diplomatic efforts to locate our nationals and secure their release by closely cooperating with local countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Benin, as well as the US and the European Union,” the ministry said, according to news wires.

While the 650,000 strong South Korean armed forces are considered highly effective by their US allies and mentors, they have had little overseas combat experience since the end of the Vietnam War.

However in 2011, South Korean Underwater Demolition Team/Sea Air Land commandos (UDT/SEALS) carried out a successful hostage rescue operation in the Gulf of Aden. Assaulting a Korean chemical freighter seized by Somali pirates, the UDT/SEALS rescued 21 hostages, though the captain was severely injured in the crossfire. Eight pirates were killed and five captured in the operation.

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