South Korea special forces during a drill on November 22, 2007. Photo: AFP/Kim Jae-hwan
South Korea special forces during a drill on November 22, 2007. Photo: AFP/Kim Jae-hwan

A South Korean destroyer is steaming for Libya and South Korean special forces are on standby in Greece in preparation for a possible hostage rescue mission.

According to the presidential office on Thursday, the Korean navy’s anti-piracy Cheonghae unit has redeployed from the Gulf of Aden and is heading for the North African country.

A South Korean national, along with three Filipinos, was kidnapped in Libya by armed insurgents on July 6, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.

“His country and his president have never once forgotten him,” Presidential Spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said, according to the Yonhap news agency. Seoul’s move was apparently prompted by the release, one day prior, of video footage showing the un-named South Korean captive pleading for President Moon Jae-in to help win his release.

“The government has been maintaining a close cooperation system with the government of Libya and other allies, such as the Philippines and the United States,” Kim added.

According to local media, the Korean hostage had been working for a water management company in Libya. Korean firms have long been active in the country, particularly in construction and pipeline management.

The identities and motives of the kidnappers are unknown.

The 4,000-ton destroyer Munmu the Great, which has a machine-gun armed Lynx helicopter aboard, is en route to Libya, Yonhap reported. And a South Korean special operations unit is on standby in Crete, Greece, according to South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo newspaper.

It is not the first time the Cheonghae unit has taken on similar duties.

In April, the Munmu the Great and South Korean UDT/SEALs were tasked with securing the release of three Korean nationals – the captain, mate and chief engineer of the fishing vessel Marine 137 – who had been seized by pirates off West Africa on March 26.

However, on April 27, the three were released after negotiations in Ghana, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry. No military action apparently took place.

While the 618,000-strong South Korean armed forces are considered highly effective by their US allies and mentors, and have taken a consistent role in anti-piracy operations, they have had little overseas combat experience since the end of the Vietnam War.

However, they have taken part in one high-profile operation.

In 2011, UDT/SEALs carried out a successful hostage rescue mission in the Gulf of Aden. Assaulting a Korean vessel seized by Somali pirates, the commandos 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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