KOREA: TV report on abducted sailors causes stir

Slow response to crisis creates swell of criticism from public

Korea Times
Wednesday, July 26, 2006

By Kim Rahn

People have reacted angrily to the government's lukewarm attitude toward kidnapped fishermen in Somalia, following a local broadcaster's report on the crew.

On Tuesday, MBC's current events show "PD Notebook" broadcast an on-the-spot report about the situation of the crew of the Dongwon Fisheries tuna vessel, who have been detained by a Somali armed faction since April 4.

The fishery firm and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said their efforts to win the release of the fishermen have been thwarted by an alleged internal dispute among the kidnappers.

However, the program taken in Somalia by freelance program director Kim Young-mi showed a different situation from the government's announcement, under the title "Shocking Report! 100 Days Since a Kidnapping -- The Sorrows of Dongwon Fisheries Vessel Crew Detained in Somalia: Why Has the Motherland Abandoned Us?"

The program showed the crew, eight Koreans and 17 from other Asian countries, who were very skinny, in constant fear as they were guarded by armed kidnappers.

The program said the cause of their despair lay on the government's indifference. The government has not sent a single official to Somalia, and occasional negotiations have been conducted by Dongwon Fisheries, not the government, the report said.

The ministry had said the kidnappers could check Korean journalism reports on the Internet and take advantage of it for negotiation, but there was no computer in the village there, only three telephones, and only one person could speak English.

The government has blamed the kidnappers, saying they do not come up with reasonable conditions for the release of the fishermen due to internal disputes, and also claims that Dongwon Fisheries should directly talk with them and pay a ransom.

The program said the crew felt betrayed, and claimed the government has failed to even grasp the situation.

After the broadcast, people posted comments on Web sites of the program and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade denouncing the government's lukewarm attitude.

An Internet user named Kim Du-hwan said on the program's Web site that the Korean government was incapable and he was ashamed of being a Korean. "A female program director went to Somalia for three days, but what have all these government officials been doing?"

Another visitor to the Web site, with the ID sjman11, said, "When kidnapped, they were working, not having an overseas trip, but the government left them like that. I, as a South Korean, am anxious about going overseas. The government is irresponsible and incapable."

Some others said the situation reminded them of the case of Kim Sun-il, who was killed by Iraqi insurgents in June 2004.

Before the broadcast, the ministry sent an official note to MBC asking it not to release the segment.

It claimed that the report by Kim, who interviewed the leader of the armed faction, might cover the "lopsided" position of the kidnappers and consequently ruin negotiations, which it claimed were nearing a compromise.

After the report, Yu Myung-hwan, vice minister of foreign affairs and trade, was quoted as saying that ministry officials check the crew's health condition by talking with the captain of the vessel by radio everyday, and their condition was not as bad as reported.

"The kidnappers are the most vicious pirates in Somalia. It is difficult to draw a compromise, as they have abrogated agreements on several occasions and demanded an additional ransom," he said.

Another ministry official said the government has helped Dongwon Fisheries, but following the principle that the government does not officially negotiate with terrorists. He refuted the claim the government has ignored a situation where its nationals have been detained overseas.