In October 2007, the Korean Central News Agency released a statement praising the United States and its military which, from today’s perspective, would seem to come from an alternate reality.
We feel grateful to the United States for its assistance given to our crewmen. This case serves as a symbol of the DPRK-U.S. cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. We will continue to render international cooperation in the fight against terrorism in the future, too.Korean Central News Agency
The statement was released in the aftermath of the DPRK’s only known interaction with Somali pirates off the coast of the horn of Africa. The incident marks one of the few friendly interactions between the US and DPRK during the early 2000s, known today as the Dai Hong Dan incident.
At the time of the incident, relations between the international community and the DPRK were not great. Only a year prior, Pyongyang had detonated its first nuclear weapon, much to the dismay and anger of many governments around the world.
Three weeks before the incident, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun had visited Pyongyang for a summit with then-leader, General Kim Jong Il. It was suggested that the government in Seoul was under pressure from the United States and others to encourage the DPRK to cease nuclear weapons production through a diplomatic push.
The Bush administration had long maintained a harsh political line against Pyongyang, notably placing the country on the ‘Axis of Evil’ list along with Iraq and Iran. This diplomatic stand-off provides a surprising backdrop for what happened next.
Dai Hong Dan Incident
On the 29th of October, the DPRK-flagged cargo vessel, the MV Dai Hong Dan, was attacked and successfully boarded by Somali pirates who managed to secure the bridge and take 22 crewmembers hostage.
The East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme reported that the ship was under contract by traders from Mogadishu and that they would wait until the ship returned to Somali before taking any action.
“We are waiting for the ship to return to port, if nothing happens as they sail back, so that we can get more information”Andrew Mwangura
East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme
The hijackers demanded a ransom of US$15,000 in exchange for the return of the ship and the crew. However, the crew had sent out a distress signal which was picked up by the US Naval vessel the USS James E. Williams which was in the area as part of Operation Enduring Freedom – Horn of Africa.
On the 30th of October, the US Navy deployed a special operations team as well as an SH-60B helicopter to secure the Dai Hong Dan. As the US naval forces arrived, the crew launched an attack on the pirates which resulted in a gun battle breaking out when crewmembers managed to steal weapons from their captors.
Conflicting reports suggest one or two pirates were killed during the clash with the crew, and later with the Navy. Six crewmembers were wounded, three seriously. The US navy provided medical assistance before leaving the vessel.
The unprecedented positive statement from the Korean Central News Agency highlighted the actions of the United States and the DPRK’s intention to stand alongside its long time enemy, the United States, against terrorism.
Despite the movie-like drama of the event, it had no significant impact on relations between the DPRK and the US. Less than two months later the Kwangmyongsong-3 Unit 2 Satellite was launched by Pyongyang, resulting in a statement from the US calling the country ‘irresponsible’ and threatening additional UN Security Council sanctions.
The Dai Hong Dan incident stands as a rare example of US-DPRK cooperation and a story of goodwill in the midst of a tense geopolitical stand-off.