At dawn, South Korean special forces packed into a small boat approached a hijacked freighter in the Arabian Sea. Commandos scrambled up a ladder onto the ship, aboard which Somali pirates were armed with AK assault rifles and anti-tank missiles. A South Korean destroyer and hovering Lynx helicopter provided covering fire.
When Friday's operation ended five hours later, 21 hostages had been rescued, eight Somali pirates killed and five assailants captured. Pockmarks from artillery fire blanketed the ship's bridge. One of the hostages was wounded, but all were alive — a remarkable ending for a risky rescue. Only a handful of rescues in recent years have involved such peril to the crew.
A wife of one of the South Korean crew cried in gratitude as the weeklong hijacking came to an end.
"Family members couldn't sleep or eat well and prayed for a safe return. I am very relieved," she said, according to Yonhap news agency.
The daring and rare raid — what the South's president called a "perfect operation" — handed South Korea a stunning success in the battle against pirates who have long tormented shipping in the waters between Africa and the Arabian peninsula.
It was also a triumph for President Lee Myung-bak, 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 in its response to the attack, which killed two marines and two civilians.