The crew members of a North Korean freighter, the Dai Hong Dan, are drawing a lot of attention for their act in an incident where they escaped a hijacking off the coast of Somalia after a deadly fight with pirates.
According to AFP on the 30th, a spokesman for the Mombasa-based Seafarers Assistance Program in Kenya, a non-governmental organization dedicated to seafarers’ well-being said, “A North Korean cargo ship was hijacked by eight pirates but 22 North Korean crew members regained control of the ship after a firefight with the pirates. The North Korean freighter is now heading back to Mogadishu port”
The North Korean cargo vessel had been docking at Mogadishu port since Oct 20th. However, it was seized by hijackers between the evening of 29th and the morning of 30th. In the course of the event, the Dai Hong Dan sent a distress signal, which was received by the Kuala Lampur-based International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in Malaysia. The IMB then passed on the signal to the Bahrain-based US Naval Forces Central Command.
The USS James E. Williams which was then 95 kilometers distant from the North Korean ship promptly responded to the signal. The US warship ordered the pirates to give up their weapons through wireless communication. The unexpected intervention of the US Navy perplexed the pirates. The North Korean crews seized the opportunity. They drew out weapons and defeated bandits.
Two pirates were dead and five were captured. Three North Koreans were wounded.
The incident is drawing a lot of attention to the North Korean crew members. Many wondered how they won the deadly battle against the pirates. It is true that the US Navy set off to rescue the crew members. However, when the US Navy arrived to the battle scene, the crew members had already defeated the pirates.
A defector, Choi Myung Il (pseudonym) said, “Most of North Korean seafarers of international trade or cargo ships have at least ten years of military service. They also receive martial arts training to prepare themselves for a time of emergency. Therefore, it is not that difficult for the crewmen to defeat the pirates.”
Mr. Choi said, “If the crew members were captured and the incident forced the North Korean authorities to step in, that would have ruined their career. The crew members upon their return to North Korea would have faced severe ideological verification and lost their job. I imagined that the crewmen of the Dai Hong Dan must have fought very hard against the pirates risking their life.”
He added, “Overseas ship usually carries small quantities of arms. Normally, security agents go on board with oversea crew members and watches their activities. It is possible that an agent who was boarding the Dai Hong Dan could have ordered the crewmen to fight”
Another defector, Kim Suk Hwan (pseudonym) said, “Most of the crew members of the Dai Hong Dan have either a good family background or powerful sponsors. North Koreans who ever board overseas ships mostly belong to the family members of officials working at Ministry of Land and Marine Transport. (equivalent to the combination between Ministry of Construction &Transportation and Ministry of Maritime Affairs& Fisheries in South Korea)”
Meanwhile, the Dai Hong Dan evoked some controversy in South Korea in June 2001 when the ship which was plying between China and Chongjin Port entered the Jeju Strait of South Korea without approval. The South Korean Navy warned the Dai Hong Dan not to pass, but the ship ignored the warning saying it is international straits.
The Dai Hong Dan is well known among North Korean people. Park Yong Hwan, who has been working as the captain for the past 27 years and successfully performing cargo transportation, received the “Hardworking Hero Title.” the nation’s top award for workers.