Leadership: North Korea and the Pirates


November 6, 2007: A recent incident off Somalia, where an American destroyer came to the aid of a North Korean merchant ship, has nearly ended in tragedy, or at least embarrassment. It all began on October 30th, when a North Koreas merchant ship, the Dai Hong Dan, was boarded by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The North Koreans managed to get off a distress message. The ship was in international waters, 108 kilometers off the coast, unloading sugar to smaller boats. This offshore unloading arrangement was supposed to protect the North Koreans from pirates. The gunmen who had took over the Dai Hong Dan were actually armed guards hired to protect the crew from real pirates during this unloading operation.

An American destroyer, the USS James E. Williams, was nearby, and rushed to the scene. When the U.S. warship got there, they demanded that the pirates surrender. Meanwhile, on the ship, part of the North Korean crew had managed to barricade themselves in the engine room, where they controlled the speed and direction the ship could move. But the seven pirates had taken control of the bridge, and refused to surrender. Seeing this, most of the 43 man North Korean crew stormed the bridge, killing two of the seven pirates. Three crew members were badly wounded, and the destroyer captain, using a Korean-American sailor as a translator, offered to treat them. The North Korean captain agreed, and the destroyers helicopter was sent to get the wounded men. American sailors came aboard, applied first aid, and the three wounded North Koreans were transferred to the destroyer for further treatment.

After things had settled down, the North Korean captain announced he was going to abandon the five surviving pirates in a rubber dingy and let them paddle back to shore, if they could. The U.S. destroyer captain warned that this sort of thing was against international law, and suggested that the five pirates be turned over to police at the Dai Hong Dan's next port of call. The North Korean captain agreed, and steamed off. The U.S. destroyer followed, to make sure the pirates did not suffer some kind of accident before they could be turned over to police.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy was asked to detain another North Korean ship, and bring it to Kenya to be searched for contraband. The North Korean ship was believed to be engaged in smuggling. The U.S. declined.


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