Decade on, Cheonghae Unit symbolizes S. Korea’s dedication to global safety

SEOUL, A decade after South Korea's Navy launched the Cheonghae Unit for anti-piracy operations off the Somali coast, the contingent has become a symbol of the country's steady contribution to global peace and safety.

Since its birth as Seoul's first overseas naval unit on March 13, 2009, it has led a slew of operations to counter pirate attacks, escort South Korean and foreign ships, and rescue others in distress mostly in the Gulf of Aden.

As of Feb. 20, the unit with some 300 personnel had traveled a total of 1.95 million kilometers, provided support for the safety of 21,895 vessels and countered 21 pirate attacks in treacherous waters, the Navy said in a press release.

"Over the last decade, the unit has been fulfilling its missions with a focus on the Gulf of Aden and has raised the Republic of Korea's national standing by successfully conducting anti-piracy operations with multinational naval forces there," Choi Hyun-soo, the defense ministry's spokeswoman, told a press briefing.

A ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of the unit's launch is set to take place at the ROK Fleet Command in Busan, 450 kilometers south of Seoul, next Tuesday. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Sim Seung-seob will host it with former unit commanders and sailors participating.

The contingent is based on a 4,400-ton destroyer with its service members deployed on a six-month rotational basis. Since the deployment of its first batch, a total of 8,478 sailors have served in the unit.

It is operating as part of the Combined Maritime Force, a multinational naval force dedicated to combating piracy, protecting maritime commerce and ensuring freedom of navigation off the Somali coast.

"I joined this unit as I believe a solider should be ready to take whatever mission he or she is given," M. Cpo. Choi Chang-min, one of the longest-serving sailors, was quoted as saying. "I was able to complete my mission thanks to my family members, who have long waited for me and supported me."

The unit is best known for its intrepid 2011 operation, codenamed "Operation Dawn in the Gulf of Aden," through which it rescued South Korea's 11,500-ton Samho Jewelry freighter and its 21 crew members from Somali pirates.

At the vanguard of the country's military diplomacy are some 1,095 South Korean troops operating in 12 countries for reconstruction, armistice monitoring and other peacekeeping missions.

The troops include those in the Dongmyeong Unit operating as part of the U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon, the Hanbit Unit for peacekeeping operations in South Sudan and the Akh Unit in the United Arab Emirates, with a mission to train UAE troops and protect South Korean nationals in the Middle East country in case of emergencies.

Source: Yonhap news Agency

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