SKorean warship rescues NKorean vessel

May 4, 2009 7:07:52 AM PDT
A South Korean navy warship warned Somali pirates away from a North Korean freighter Monday by threatening to open fire, the South Korean military said. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the 4,500-ton-class warship sent a Lynx helicopter to assist the North Korean vessel earlier in the day after receiving a distress call that it was being chased by the pirate ship.

The pirate ship gave up chasing the North Korean vessel and sped away shortly after snipers aboard the helicopter prepared to fire warning shots at it, the statement said.

The South Korean helicopter guided the North Korean ship to a safer area and the ship later sent a thank you message to the South Korean vessel, the statement said. The incident took place 23 miles (37 kilometers) south of the Yemeni port of Aden, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Somalia and Yemen are separated by the Gulf of Aden.

The high seas drama was a rare instance of cooperation between the two Koreas. Relations have badly frayed since a conservative government in Seoul took power last year with a vow to get tough on the North over its nuclear program. Pyongyang has responded by cutting ties and halting key joint projects.

The South Korean ship has been operating off Somalia since last month on a mission to protect South Korean cargo ships from Somali pirates.

A number of other countries, including Japan, have dispatched naval vessels to patrol the dangerous waters and protect shipping amid a spate of pirate attacks.

Tension on the peninsula has further intensified since North Korea launched a rocket on April 5 in defiance of international warnings. Pyongyang claims it put a satellite into orbit but the U.S. and its allies argue it was really a test of the country's long-range missile technology.

The United Nations denounced the launch and imposed sanctions on the North, prompting it to threaten to conduct a second nuclear test and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.

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