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S. Korean Navy frees hijacked cargo ship, kills Somali pirates
SEOUL, Jan. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korean naval special forces successfully rescued 21 seamen and their South Korean-operated cargo ship that was hijacked last week by Somali pirates in an operation that left eight Somali pirates dead, Seoul's military officials said Friday.

   "Our special forces stormed the hijacked Samho Jewelry earlier today and freed all hostages," said Col. Lee Bung-woo, a spokesman at South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

   "During the operation, our forces killed some Somali pirates and all of the hostages were confirmed alive," Lee told reporters.

   The South Korean skipper of the ship suffered a gunshot wound to his stomach during the operation, but his condition is not life-threatening, Lee said.

   The unprecedented rescue operation by the South Korean Navy SEAL forces, which had been top secret since it started early this week, ended a seven-day ordeal for the crew of the 11,500-ton Samho Jewelry, which was hijacked last Saturday in the Arabian Sea when it was en route to Sri Lanka from the United Arab Emirates.

   The rescue operation took place in high seas about 1,300 kilometers off northeast Somalia, Lee said.

   Friday's rescue operation came after a brief gun battle on Tuesday when the South Korean destroyer Choi Young, pursuing the Samho Jewelry, detected Somali pirates who apparently got off the vessel to hijack a Mongolian vessel nearby.

   The South Korean special forces aboard a fast-sailing navy boat and a Lynx helicopter were dispatched to rescue the Mongolian vessel, sparking the gun battle.

   Tuesday's firefight left several pirates missing, and they are believed to have been killed, but their bodies have not been found, the official said. Three South Korean soldiers suffered minor injuries and were sent to a hospital in Oman.

   "Three of our soldiers suffered light scratches on their bodies as they were fired upon by pirates on Tuesday," Lee said. "Our Lynx helicopter immediately returned fire and several pirates fell into the waters. We believe they are dead."

   Since Tuesday, a standoff between the South Korean destroyer and the Somali pirates had continued. An Omanese navy ship arrived at the scene of confrontation to support the rescue operation.