The Korea Times 칼럼

Fate of Somali pirates (2011년 2월 12일)

divicom 2011. 2. 12. 11:25

No chocolate do-rag. No Jack Sparrow charm and splendor. No cute mustache or handsome goatee. No one-legged charismatic men with parrots on their shoulders. Young in age, yet looking old and fatigued, came the Somali pirates into Seoul, devastating the decades-old fantasy my head had carried ever since I read ``Treasure Island” as an elementary school child.

Two weeks have passed since the pirates were brought to Korea on Jan. 30, a fortnight after they hijacked the freighter Samho Jewelry in seas off the Somali coast and controlled the lives of 21 crewmembers, including eight Koreans, until they succumbed to the successful operation of the Cheonghae Anti-Piracy Unit, the Korean Navy commandoes, on Jan. 21.

Owing to ``Operation Daybreak in Gulf of Aden,” all crew have returned to freedom, though the smart but ill-fated Captain Seok Hae-kyun is still in critical condition from bullet wounds. Seok reportedly slowed his ship down by mixing water into the engine oil to earn time for the Korean Navy SEALs. The operation killed eight pirates and left five others as captives.

After a week-long questioning of the Somali pirates and Korean sailors, the special investigation team said on Monday that one of the four bullets removed from Seok was from an MP5 of the Korean commandos and another was fired by an AK-47 rifle of the pirates. one bullet, which is believed to have caused the most damage by hitting his upper abdomen, was removed during a surgical operation in Oman but was lost while Seok was brought back to Korea.

I hope Seok will get well soon and investigators will stop endeavoring to identify both the Korean and Somali shooters responsible for the near fatal bullets. The bullets were fired during an armed conflict and it would be pointless to pick two particular men as guilty.

Now that the special team has wrapped up its investigation and sent the case to the prosecution, the fate of the five Somali pirates has emerged as a matter of public concern. In addition to hijacking the ship, the pirates wounded three Cheonghae commandos when the latter made the first rescue attempt on Jan. 18.

Pundits say that the pirates may face life imprisonment for charges of maritime robbery, attempted murder, ship hijacking and obstruction of special official duty. It’s the 21st century after all. Were it the 17th and 18th centuries, the sea-born criminals might be executed publicly by hanging.

Some people see the pirates, aged between 19 and 24, as unfortunate young men who were forced into the unlawful acts due to socio-political-economic situation of their country. According to Wikipedia, some Somalis become pirates allegedly to combat illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste by foreign vessels in their waters. They claim to be protecting their waters in the absence of an effective national coast guard.

In the meantime, the pirates make huge money from collecting ransoms. Their combined earnings is estimated at $80 million in 2008, $58 million in 2009, and $238 million in 2010. No wonder piracy increases shipping costs. Some rich pirates spend money recklessly in their homeland, raising eyebrows of many brethren while inspiring younger ones to follow in their footsteps.

Though it is not known how the five pirates in Seoul took up the illegal adventure as their career, it is obvious that they didn’t live lives deemed normal, let alone desirable, for their ages. They reportedly sneered when Korean investigators asked “When did you learn to shoot a gun?” It is easy to presume that they acquired the skill at an early age, probably before they could tell right from wrong.

If destiny had them born in Somalia, one of the least affluent countries still struggling to stand on its own feet after a civil war 10 years ago, it also is their luck to have become guests of Korea, though involuntarily. It is good to hear that the five are doing fine in Seoul prisons, eating rice and kimchi without much trouble. one of them even expressed the hope to be a naturalized Korean.

Whether they will end up behind bars or not, I hope, the five men will be given the opportunity to reset the course of their lives in a way more befitting their ages. We Koreans may not be able to improve living conditions for the entire 10 million Somali people, but we can at least help the five make their lives better. When they return home someday, I hope they will behave not as pompous, rich pirates but as enlightened ``treasures” of their country. only then will I forgive them for ruining my childhood fancies about pirates.


초등학교 때는 <보물섬>을 읽고 나이들어서는 조니 뎁이 주연하는 <캐리비안의 해적>을 보며 해적에 대한 환상을 키웠습니다. 그러나 삼호주얼리호를 납치했다가 한국으로 잡혀온 소말리아 해적들을 보는 순간 해적에 대한 환상은 여지없이 무너졌습니다. <보물섬>에서 본 외다리 실버 선장의 카리스마도 <캐리비안의 해적> 속 잭 스패로우 선장의 멋진 모습도 없는, 나이에 비해 지쳐 보이는 젊은이들이었으니까요.


소말리아 해적은 어부와 군인 등 다양한 출신으로 구성되는데, 그들은 자신들이 해적이 된 건 자기 나라를 보호하기 위해서라고 합니다. 1991년 시작된 내전으로 인해 무정부상태가 지속되면서 인근 해역의 어로자원을 다른 나라 배들이 쓸어가는 일이 많아지고, 다른 나라의 배들이 폐기물을 싣고 와 버리고 가는 일도 흔해졌는데, 정부가 그런 행위를 막지 못하니 자신들이 나서서 자국의 이익을 보호하는 것이라는 겁니다.


소말리아는 전세계에서 가장 가난한 나라 중 하나로 꼽히지만 해적들은 매우 부유하게 산다고 합니다. 인질의 몸값으로 벌어들이는 돈이 한 해에 수천 만 달러에 이르니 그럴 수밖에 없겠지요. 그러다보니 돈을 펑펑 쓰는 해적들을 백안시하는 소말리아인들이 있는가 하면, 그들이 그렇게 돈을 써서 자국 경제를 활성화한다고 좋아하는 사람들도 있으며, 해적을 꿈꾸는 젊은이들도 적지 않다고 합니다.


이번에 우리나라로 압송되어온 다섯 명의 소말리아 해적들, 그들이 어떤 연유로 해적이 되었는지는 알 수 없는 일이지만 그들이 제 나이에 걸맞은 삶을 살아오지 못한 것은 분명합니다. 그들이 소말리아에 태어나 해적이 된 게 운명이라면, 우리나라로 잡혀와 원치 않는 손님 노릇을 하게 된 것도 운명일 겁니다. 그들이 만난 두 번째 운명이 그들로 하여금 나이에 맞는 삶을 살 수 있게 해주기를 기원합니다. 그들이 언젠가 소말리아로 돌아갈 때는 돈을 물 쓰듯하는 해적으로서가 아니라 나라를 살리는 인재가 되어 있기를 바랍니다. 그때쯤에나 해적에 대해 갖고 있던 저의 환상을 깨뜨린 그들의 죄를 용서할 수 있을 것 같습니다.


* 끝에서 두 번째 문단에 "If destiny had them born in Somalia, one of the least affluent countries still struggling to stand on its own feet after a civil war 10 years ago,"라는 부분이 있는데, 그 문장의 끝부분에 나오는 "10 years ago"는 "20 years ago"로 고쳐야 합니다. 소말리아에서 내전이 일어난 것은 1991년인데 제가 산수를 잘못해서 '10년 전'이라고 썼습니다. 아직도 내전 상태가 종식되지 않았으니 "a civil war broke out 20 years ago"라고 해야 가장 정확하겠지요.