S. Korea and Malaysia Use Force Against Pirates

The commando tactics used by South Korea and Malaysia against piracy revives old debate.

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Amiel Ungar, | updated: 23:46

Somal Pirates Rogues Gallery
Somal Pirates Rogues Gallery

The successful anti-piracy commando tactics employed by the South Korean and Malaysian naval vessels against Somali pirates have revived an old debate that was argued in the days of airline hijackings: give in to save the hostages or use force to capture the pirates.

South Korea and Malaysia used force and the South Korean operation killed some of the pirates. The pirates now threaten to retaliate against South Korean ships and will no longer be amenable to ransom. One pirate told Reuters "we shall burn them and kill their crew. We shall redouble our efforts. Korea has put itself in trouble by killing my colleagues." The pirates now plan to hold captured crew members and passengers further inland to prevent rescue attempts.

Both the South Koreans and Malaysians were able to free hostages at the cost of a non-life-threatening wound to one of the Koreans. For European Union vessels this is too much of a risk to take and the safety of the hostages takes precedence over deterring and eradicating piracy.

Other considerations may have been behind the Korean decision. The South Korean military had sought the approval of President Lee Myung-bakwho approved the operation. South Korea, which recently paid and 9.5 million dollar ransom to the pirates, was getting tired of the situation "in which our ships are continuously being dragged off in the hijackings".

This has been going on since 2006 and up to now Korea dutifully paid the ransom that many shippers considered part of operating costs in the business. However, operating costs are now considerably higher because ransom rates have been raised.

In addition,  with a multinational Navy patrolling the Gulf of Aden, including ships from the South Korean Navy, Koreans asked to what avail were such operations if ransoms continued to be paid. There was a feeling that this time, even if things went wrong, public opinion in South Korea would back the action or, as a high-ranking defense official put it, “a complete mission would be one that ends without sacrifice, but in operations there may be times when partial sacrifices must be taken into account,". The change in public opinion may also been motivated by the recent clashes with North Korea and the need for South Korea to display its willingness to fight Choi Jin-wook, at the Korea Institute for National Unification said “This is a message that we are not going to compromise with evil," continuing,  "It is our determination to fight.”

Malaysia believes that using force against the pirates was the way to go. Despite the increase in the amount of naval vessels, 2010 was a record year for piracy  with increased sophistication. An example is embryonic stock exchanges that stake the pirates in equipping themselves with boats and arms in return for share of the future ransoms.

The Malaysia Star claimed that without a forceful response " not only will more Somali gangs be lured into piracy, other criminal networks elsewhere will be encouraged similarly. And although pirates and terrorists are still separate entities, some pirate networks might in time come to assist or cooperate with terrorist groups."  The Star asserted that what was needed was stepped up cooperation between the naval forces operating in the area because in the end result professional soldiers could always best paramilitary pirates and thugs.