High seas détente: S. Korea rescues N. Korean ship from Somali pirates

United by a common enemy, South Korea's Navy moves to protect a North Korean cargo ship.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff/AP
South Koreans aim from a helicopter at a pirate ship about 23 miles south of Aden port in Yemen. A South Korean Navy warship rescued a North Korean freighter by driving away a pirate ship chasing it off the coast of Somalia.

SEOUL –Six decades of enmity momentarily melted Monday when a South Korean destroyer on patrol in the Gulf of Aden responded Monday to a distress call.

A North Korean vessel was under threat of attack by Somali pirates. The captain of the South Korean ship dispatched a Lynx helicopter “as soon as our destroyer received a call for help from the North Korean vessel,” Yonhap News quoted a South Korean defense official as saying.

No matter that the same day, North Korea’s party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, was warning of “military clashes between the two sides.” Tensions have been escalating for more than a year, threatening the armistice that ended the Korean war in 1953.

The newspaper cautioned South Korea against participating in the US-inspired Proliferation Security Initiative, under which scores of countries cooperate in stopping shipments of nuclear materiel and missiles, saying that could “escalate to a full-blown war.”

As the British-made South Korean helicopter hove into view of the beleaguered North Korean ship, 23 miles off the coast of Yemen, the pirates saw it coming, machine-guns protruding. That was enough for the pirates to flee, according to South Korea’s Defense Ministry.

The North Korean media showed no awareness of the event, but a South Korean spokesman said the North Korean commander messaged thanks to the destroyer, Munmu the Great. Its name honors the seventh-century king who unified the Korean peninsula for the first time.

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