One of four bullets from injured captain shot by S. Korean Navy: Coast Guard
2011/02/07 17:19 KST
(3rd LD) One of four bullets from injured captain shot by S. Korean Navy: Coast Guard BUSAN/SEOUL, Feb. 7 (Yonahp) -- One of the four bullets removed from the injured South Korean captain of a chemical freighter hijacked by Somalis last month was shot by South Korean Navy commandos during their raid on the ship in the Arabian Sea, the South Korean Coast Guard said Monday, wrapping up a probe on five captured Somali pirates.
Seok Hae-kyun, the skipper of the 11,500-ton Samho Jewelry, who has drawn keen national attention since South Korean naval special forces stormed the ship on Jan. 21 to free it from Somali pirates, still remains in critical but stable condition due to his gunshot wounds.
Seeking to obtain evidence to prove the pirates' criminal charges, the Coast Guard has secured three bullets out of four taken from Seok's body and tentatively concluded that one of them was from either a pistol, MP5 9 mm machine gun or MP5 silencer gun used by the South Korean Navy, Coast Guard officials said, noting one bullet was lost in Oman, where Seok was initially hospitalized.
"One bullet is from an AK rifle used by the pirates, while the other is suspected of being debris from the ship that pierced Captain Seok's body due to the shells," chief investigator Kim Chung-gyu said, noting that the state forensic agency will produce the final result by next week. "We have not yet confirmed which bullet was shot into which part of Captain Seok's body."
Kim, however, ruled out the possibility of opening a separate investigation to identify the South Korean Navy commando who might have shot Seok, saying the incident took place while they were performing their "legitimate official duty" as part of the Jan. 21 pre-dawn rescue operation.
In Seoul, an official at the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Seok may have been shot by a stray bullet from one of the Navy commandos during the crossfire of the gun battle with the pirates.
"There is the possibility that the captain might have been hit by the stray bullet from one of Navy commandos during the gun battle, but we can confirm this only after a final forensic analysis is completed," the military official said.
The 58-year-old skipper underwent several surgeries, before and after arriving at Ajou University Hospital in Suwon, south of Seoul. He briefly recovered consciousness last Thursday but was put back on a respirator over the weekend. He has been suffering pneumonia and other lung problems but is showing growing signs of recovery as of Monday, according to hospital officials.
Although Arai Mahomed, one of the pirates suspected of having shot Seok, is still denying the charges, two Korean crew members, two foreign crew members and two pirates told investigators that they saw him shoot the captain. The bullets from Seok's body and bullet traces from the floor of the ship's pilot house will be also used as corroborating evidence against the 23-year-old suspect, officials said.
Under South Korean law, the pirates could be sentenced to at least five years in prison for hijacking the ship and life imprisonment or even death for firing at the captain from a close distance.
Investigators, however, said they have failed to find any evidence that the pirates deliberately pinpointed the Samho Jewelry as a target, saying that the pirates sailed for 23 days before they hijacked the freighter.
"The investigation has limitations, as the (pirates') leader who led the hijacking was killed, but it is unlikely that they targeted (the freighter) for kidnapping given various circumstances."
Suspicions had been raised that the pirates might have secured information on the Samho Jewelry's shipping route after learning that a South Korean supertanker owned by the same company was freed after the company paid a huge ransom. Last November, two dozen crew members of the 300,000-ton tanker, the Samho Dream, were released after being held hostage by Somali pirates for seven months. The company reportedly paid more than US$9 million in ransom.
The Coast Guard will send the case to the local prosecutors' office on Tuesday to officially press charges against the pirates in South Korea's first piracy trial, officials noted.