SEOUL, South Korea – South Korean sailors held captive by Somali pirates for a week said they were frequently beaten and their lives were repeatedly threatened before South Korean commandos rescued them in a dramatic raid, a news report said Wednesday.
Such abuse — and even torture — is being systematically perpetrated by Somali pirates on their hostages, according to the top commander of the European Union Naval Force.
Seven South Korean sailors who were aboard a cargo ship when it was hijacked in the Arabian Sea on Jan. 15 returned home Wednesday. The crew have been largely kept away from the media while investigators interview them, but a few recounted their ordeal to the Yonhap news agency.
One sailor said he lost several teeth after being beaten by one of his captors.
"Pirates trampled and beat me whenever I talked with my captain," Kim Du-chan was quoted as saying by Yonhap. "I lost my four front teeth after being hit by the elbow of one pirate."
The pirates frequently beat the captain and other senior crew while shouting "kill," another sailor Choi Jin-kyung said.
Yonhap said it obtained the comments while the sailors were outside of an investigation room at a local coast guard office, where they were taken shortly after their arrival at the southeastern city of Busan.
Coast guard spokesman Eum Jin-kyung confirmed the sailors were being questioned about their treatment but said he couldn't confirm the reported beating.
The published report came a day after Maj. Gen. Buster Howes told The Associated Press that Somali pirates have begun systematically using hostages as human shields and torturing them.
Howes said that pirates have recently tied hostages upside down and dragged them in the sea, locked them in freezers, beaten them and used plastic ties around their genitals.
During last month's raid, South Korean commandos killed eight pirates and captured five. None of the crew members was injured except for the captain, who was shot in the stomach by a pirate. He was brought to South Korea on Saturday while the rest of crew — two Indonesians and 11 Myanmar citizens — are staying in Oman.
The five captured pirates were brought to South Korea on Sunday on charges they hijacked the ship, requested a ransom and attempted to kill the captain. If convicted, the pirates could face up to life imprisonment.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia — which includes one of the world's busiest shipping lanes — has flourished since the Horn of Africa nation's government collapsed in 1991.
Associated Press writer Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.