Triumph for Seoul as hijacked ship stormed and Somali pirates killed

South Korean special forces stormed a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea yesterday, rescuing all 21 crew members and killing eight Somali pirates.

The operation in waters between Oman and Africa, which also captured five pirates and left one crew member wounded, came a week after the Somali attackers seized the South Korean freighter.

They held hostage eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 citizens from Burma.

"We will not tolerate any behaviour that threatens the lives and safety of our people in the future," South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in a statement, adding that the rescue was a "perfect operation".

The successful raid is a triumph for Lee, whose government suffered harsh criticism at home in the weeks following a North Korean attack in November on a South Korean island near disputed waters. Critics said Lee's military was too slow and weak.

With a South Korean destroyer and a Lynx helicopter providing covering fire, special navy forces stormed the hijacked vessel in a pre-dawn rescue that left eight of the pirates dead and five captured, Lt Gen Lee Sung-ho said.

The captain of the ship was shot by a pirate and taken by a US helicopter to a nearby country for treatment, but the wound is not life-threatening. The 20 other crew members were rescued unharmed, he said.

"This operation demonstrated our government's strong will to never negotiate with pirates," the general said.

Storming a ship held by pirates is rare and navies tend to avoid it because of the risk of harming hostages.

The 11,500-ton chemical carrier Samho Jewellery was sailing from the United Arab Emirates to Sri Lanka when it was hijacked.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and piracy has flourished off its coast.

British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler were released in November after more than a year in captivity after their yacht was seized by armed pirates as they sailed from the Seychelles to Tanzania.