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South Korean defence minister apologises over Covid-19 outbreak on destroyer during anti-piracy mission

South Korean Defence Minister Suh Wook has issued an apology for the military's failure to prevent a Covid-19 outbreak among personnel of the Republic of Korea Navy's (RoKN's) Cheonghae Anti-Piracy Unit during a mission in waters off eastern Africa.

The Yonhap News Agency reported on 20 July that the apology came a day after tests showed that 247 personnel (or 82%) of the 301-member unit aboard Chungmugong Yi Sun-sin (KDX-II)-class destroyer Munmu Daewang (DDH 976) had been infected, amid growing criticism of the Ministry of National Defense (MND) in Seoul for excluding the unit from its vaccination campaign.

As Yonhap reported, the MND had initially justified the move by saying that the unit had left for Africa before the campaign began, and that it was difficult to transfer the vaccines out of the country under contracts with vaccine suppliers and over safety concerns.

The unit, which includes special forces, had been stationed in the Gulf of Aden since March, according to the Korea JoonAng Daily newspaper.

“I feel a heavy responsibility as defence minister for the large number of confirmed cases because I failed to take care of the 34th contingent of the Cheonghae unit,” Suh was quoted by the paper as saying during a press briefing. “I deeply apologise to the soldiers, family members, and the people of the Cheonghae unit. ... We have been actively pushing for vaccination of all soldiers, including troops who are dispatched overseas, but there was a lack of effort to vaccinate troops in the Cheonghae unit who departed in February,” he added.

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