SEOUL, South Korea — At dawn Friday, South Korean commandos steered their boat to a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea. Under covering fire from a destroyer and a Lynx helicopter, they scrambled up a ladder onto the ship, where Somali pirates were armed with assault rifles and antitank missiles.
Five hours after the risky rescue began, it was over.
All 21 hostages were freed from the Samho Jewelry, a 11,500-ton chemical carrier captured Saturday while sailing from the United Arab Emirates to Sri Lanka. Eight pirates were killed and five were captured in what President Lee Myung Bak called a "perfect operation."
It was a remarkable ending to the daring and rare raid, handing South Korea a stunning success in the battle against pirates who have long tormented shipping in the waters off the Horn of Africa.
The New York Times, quoting South Korea's military, reported that three South Korean soldiers were injured and the hijacked ship's captain, a South Korean identified as Seok Bae Gyun, 58, was shot in the abdomen, but his injuries were said not to be life-threatening.
"My heart stopped when the news of all the members being rescued was broadcast," the captain's son, Seok Hyun Wook, told South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper. "If I knew that they were planning a rescue, I would have been nervous all along."
The successful raid also was a triumph for South Korea's president and military. Both came under harsh criticism at home for being too slow and weak in the response to a North Korean attack in November on a South Korean island near disputed waters that killed two marines and two civilians.