Two KC-330 (Airbus A330 MRTT) multipurpose aerial tanker takes off from Gimhae International Airport in the southern port city of Busan on July 18, 2021, to bring home South Korean service members affiliated with the Cheonghae unit on an anti-piracy mission off the coast of Africa, after the unit reported a mass COVID-19 infection. All the service members are expected to return home Tuesday as the government decided to airlift all of them and sent two KC-330 aerial tankers to Africa on Sunday. One needs intensive care, he is still able to be airlifted by the aerial tanker.
A total of 247 sailors of South Korea’s 301-strong Cheonghae unit on an anti-piracy mission in waters off Africa have tested positive for the coronavirus, in the worst-ever mass infection among service members. An additional 179 members have newly tested positive after 68 were confirmed to have been infected as of Sunday. The unit first reported six COVID-19 cases last week and conducted virus tests on all of its members. Of them, 16 are now at local hospitals for treatment, and the remainder have been in isolation on Republic of Korea Navy ROKS Munmu the Great (DDH-976).
The Republic of Korea Navy Somali Sea Escort Task Group, also known as “Cheonghae” Unit was established by the Republic of Korea Navy to protect civilian ships near the coast of Somalia under Combined Task Force 151. The naval task force is named after the historical 9th-century Korean military base Cheonghaejin. Deployed from Jinhae Naval Base, the modern-day unit is responsible for safely escorting hundreds of commercial vessels and several rescues involving ships from The Bahamas, Denmark, North Korea and South Korea.
ROKS Munmu the Great was the first ship to be deployed as part of the unit to Somali waters on March 13, 2009. On May 4, the Munmu the Great responded to a distress call by the North Korean merchant vessel Dabaksol. A Westland Lynx military helicopter was launched to protect the Dabaksol until the pirates had fled. The North Korean sailors thanked the members of the unit before proceeding to India. On January 21, 2011, the Cheonghae Unit rescued the crew of the Samho Jewelry, a chemical tanker held hostage by Somali pirates; 8 pirates were killed, and 5 were captured.
ROKS Munmu the Great (DDH-976) is a Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin-class destroyer in the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN). It was named after the Korean king Munmu of Silla. Munmu the Great sent overseas to protect merchant vessels from Somali pirates. In April 2018, it was deployed to Ghana with personnel from the Special Warfare Brigade as part of a mission to rescue kidnapped South Korean fishermen. The KDX-II is said to be the first stealthy major combatant in the ROKN and part of a much larger build up program aimed at turning the ROKN into a blue-water navy.
The KC-330 is the South Korean version of the Airbus A330 MRTT (military derivative of the A330-200 airliner). On 30 June 2015, South Korea selected the A330 MRTT. The A330 MRTT can also be configured to perform Medical Evacuation (Medevac) missions; up to 130 standard stretchers can be carried. The main deck cargo configuration allows carriage of standard commercial containers, pallets and containers. So far, four KC-330s, which are named â€˜Cygnus’ in Korean service (Cygnus meaning “Swan”), have been delivered.