A South Korean destroyer started the country’s first naval mission abroad on Thursday, escorting cargo vessels off piracy-prone Somalia, the Defence Ministry said.

30-09-somali-pirates1The Gulf of Aden is a key shipping route for South Korean vessels as they sail from the Middle East with crude oil for the world’s fifth largest buyer.

“Our (unit) that was dispatched to Somali waters on March 13 for the protection of our vessels has begun escorting them today,” the ministry said in a statement.

South Korean cargo vessels have been captured by Somali pirates in recent years and sailors held hostage for ransom. In February, South Korean sailors were among 23 who were released after being held for months. About 460 South Korean vessels pass the gulf every year, according to government data.

There has been no let-up in the seizure of ships by pirates in the region since U.S. military snipers killed three Somali pirates on Sunday and freed an American ship captain who had been held hostage for five days.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the pirates criminals and said Washington would send an envoy to a conference on Somalia next week to boost the fight against piracy.



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