Captain Seog receives medal from IMO Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos in London, 21st November 2011 (photo courtesy of IMO)

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea 2011 has gone to Capt Seog Hae-gyun, the Korean master of the chemical tanker Samho Jewelry. Capt Seog was cited for his decisive and courageous actions to protect his ship and crew during a pirate attack in the Indian Ocean that left him with crippling injuries. In all, IMO received 38 nominations but in the end the choice was clear. IMO recounts the incident that won Capt Seog the Award:

When the Samho Jewelry was boarded by pirates, in January 2011, the crew took cover in the designated citadel but the pirates broke in, detaining them on the bridge. Over two days, Captain Seog steered the ship on a zig-zag course, so that the pirates would not realize that the vessel was actually heading away from, instead of towards, Somali waters. He contaminated the fuel so the engines would not work normally, pretended the steering gear was malfunctioning and slowed the ship’s speed from 14 knots to six, to keep her out of Somali waters for as long as possible, thus maximizing the potential for units of the Republic of Korea Navy to attempt a rescue. However, the pirates became suspicious that some of Captain Seog’s actions were intended to outwit them and they brutally assaulted him, causing serious fractures to his legs and shoulders.

While all this was happening, the pirates ordered him to communicate information about the incident to his shipping company in English, via satellite. Captain Seog surreptitiously inserted information in Korean about the true situation – information that proved vital for the Navy of his country to plan, and execute, a rescue operation.

On 21 January, as the sun came up, the Republic of Korea Navy destroyer Choi Young launched a rescue operation, which they named “Dawn of the Gulf of Aden”. By 06.30 on that day, the attack team had gained full control of the bridge. During this time, Captain Seog, despite his injuries, managed to send out an urgent message via VHF, warning the boarding party that there were three pirates at the steering wheel.

The already-injured Captain Seog survived being shot four times, including twice in the abdomen, by pirates firing in revenge. Having received emergency treatment from the Special Assault Commando, he was transported by means of an inflatable craft and a helicopter to the Sultan Qaboos Hospital in Oman.

Meanwhile, the Republic of Korea naval forces involved in the assault continued operations on the ship, and all 21 crew members eventually were freed. In all, eight pirates were killed and five captured. From the Omani hospital, Captain Seog was transferred to a hospital in the Republic of Korea, where he underwent major surgery. It was nearly a month before he recovered full consciousness.

Our congratulations to Capt Seog. May his tribe increase. ~Barista Uno

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