Avast ye…Moonmu??

ROKS Munmu the Great during RIMPAC '06
ROKS Munmu the Great during RIMPAC '06

The ROK Navy appears to have named the first ship to be dispatched on an anti-piracy patrol.  At least, if you believe an editorial in the Korean Herald this week:

The Navy plans to dispatch Moonmu the Great, a 42,000-ton [sic – should be 4,200 ton] destroyer, to the waters off Somalia to join the international fight against piracy.

The government passed a motion last month to send a destroyer to Somalian waters to protect one of the most important and heavily used shipping lanes in the world. About 460 South Korean ships pass through the area every year.

In recent years, as piracy in the area has increased, several South Korean-registered merchant ships have been also been hijacked, their crew held hostage for months, before being freed for ransom. There has been a growing call by the shipping industry in Korea for the Korean Navy to join the multinational operation against Somali pirates.

At the moment, naval forces from the United States, Europe, India, Russia, and China, among others, are in the waters off Somalia’s coast to escort ships and respond to distress calls. It is estimated that about 20 to 30 warships are deployed off the Somali coast.

Somali pirates have become more daring and sophisticated over the years, using automatic weapons and rocket launchers to seize commercial vessels. In 2008, more than 100 ships were attacked with some 60 successful hijackings.

A high-profile hijacking was resolved last week when Faina, a Ukrainian cargo vessel carrying 33 tanks and other weaponry was released after 134 days of captivity. Pirates claim that a ransom of at least $3.2 million was paid.

Somalia, without a properly functioning government, is unable to patrol the waters off its coast. To combat the growing piracy, it has allowed warships from the United States, France and India to operate within its waters.

Moonmu the Great — named after a 7th century conqueror — will be retrofitted to accommodate a multiple number of heavy-artillery guns in anticipation of the deployment. Built in Korea in 2003, the destroyer is armed with torpedoes, guided missiles and 30-millimeter rapid-fire guns.

It can also accommodate two sea surveillance helicopters and three high-speed boats. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said that about 300 servicemen would be onboard. The Navy plans to set up a base at Djibouti when Moonmu the Great is dispatched.

The mission is by no means an easy one and may entail engaging in combat. An Indian warship sank a suspected pirate ship off the coast of Yemen in November after pirates fired on them. While Moonmu the Great will be charged with escorting Korean vessels in the Gulf of Aden, the destroyer may also be asked to participate in the multinational Combined Maritime Forces’ anti-terrorism operations.

The Navy said that it would tap its expertise in dealing with close-range threats — expertise garnered through heavy training in dealing with infiltration boats from North Korea — when the Korean destroyer is deployed. The Navy has been preparing since last year when discussions about the deployment started.

With the parliamentary approval of the deployment expected within the month, Moonmu the Great is likely to be deployed by March, at the latest.

In October 2009, the U.N. Security Council called on nations with vessels in the area to apply military force to repress piracy. While military presence is not the final solution to the Somali piracy problem — unless a functioning government can reinstate order in the failed state, there appears to be little chance of eradicating the problem — nations must work together to keep one of the most important shipping lanes open and safe.

There are more than a few interesting tidbits in here:

“About 460 South Korean ships pass through the area every year” –  this doesn’t add all the other ships carrying ROK goods that pass by.  With insurance going up it makes shipping goods from Korea more expensive too.

“Pirates claim that a ransom of at least $3.2 million was paid” – Korea has also apparently paid ransom in the past.  Maybe getting tired, eh?

“Moonmu the Great…will be retrofitted to accommodate a multiple number of heavy-artillery guns in anticipation of the deployment” – Moonmu is a KDX-II-class destroyer that entered service in 2004.  It is fitted with a 127mm main gun along with the Goalkeeper CIWS and a pair of Vulcan 20mm AA.  I would expect the “heavy artillery guns” are more likely additional light weapons. There had been talk about the lastest AEGIS KDX-III-class beig deployed, especially after China deployed several of their newer boats.  Apparently, cooler heads in the ROK Navy prevailed.

“The Navy said that it would tap its expertise in dealing with close-range threats — expertise garnered through heavy training in dealing with infiltration boats from North Korea — when the Korean destroyer is deployed” – Chasing infiltration boats that are trying to AVOID being caught is different than fending off pirates who may be willing to trade shots.

The real missing piece in this article is WHEN the boat may go.  The National Assembly still needs to authorize the mission, and there is no bill currently in front of that body.  Indeed, domestic issues, and NorK rhetoric about the NLL may eventually conspire to keep Moonmu at home.

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