Arrested Somali pirates like life in ROK

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Members of a Somali pirate gang taken to the Republic of Korea after a high-seas commando raid prefer the quality of their jailhouse accommodation to life back home, a report said Tuesday.

One of the detained suspects, 21-year-old Serum Abdullah, had even asked for investigators to let him stay in the Republic of Korea (ROK), Dong-A Ilbo newspaper reported, citing a police investigator.

"Other Somali suspects also said the jail in Republic of Korea was better than decent hotels in Africa," the investigator was quoted as saying.

Another unidentified suspect told Yonhap news agency: "Korean food was better than I thought and the bed was comfortable. Republic of Korea seems to be a good country."

A maritime police spokesman in the southern city of Busan said the Somalis were receiving "humane treatment" including extra heating and clothes to cope with a bitter cold spell.

"We've provided them with meals of steamed rice, tofu and kimchi (a spicy cabbage dish) but without pork... they devoured them all and seemed to like it very much," he told AFP.

Police have also provided basins to allow the suspects to wash before the five daily prayers mandated in Islam.

In a case likely to be closely watched by other countries tackling piracy, ROK's maritime police have formed a team of 50 officials to deal with the country's first legal attempt to punish foreign pirates.

The pirates hijacked a ROK chemical tanker in the Arabian Sea on Jan15, but the ship and its crew were rescued by ROK's naval commandos in a dramatic raid six days later.

Eight pirates were killed while all 21 crew were rescued - eight ROK nationals, two Indonesians and 11 from Myanmar. Police say the pirates shot and critically wounded the ROK ship's captain, Seok Hae-kyun.

The Somalis have been formally arrested for suspected maritime robbery, attempted murder and ship hijacking.

The five could face life in prison if convicted of shooting the captain of the chemical tanker.

If Seok were to die, they could theoretically be sentenced to death, although ROK has carried out no executions since 1997.

Maritime police in Busan, where the five were flown Sunday, said Tuesday they would check three bullets removed from Seok's body against weapons seized from the gang, and also check fingerprints on the guns.

Police said in a statement the leader and deputy chief of the pirate gang were among those shot dead.

They said Arai Mahomed, a prime suspect in the shooting of Seok, had vehemently denied the accusation and said he never touched the gun.

Meanwhile seven accused Somali pirates, captured by Malaysian forces in a raid to free a hijacked oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, arrived Monday in Malaysia to face possible trial.

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