Seoul, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s Prime Minister on Tuesday apologized for “failed health care” of hundreds of seafarers infected with the coronavirus on naval vessels participating in anti-piracy missions off the coast of East Africa.
The outbreak on the destroyer Bunmu the Great is the largest group seen by the South Korean army. A total of 247 of the ship’s 301 crew members recently tested positive for COVID-19, requiring two military aircraft to be dispatched to return all.
The destroyer’s crew had not been vaccinated because they left South Korea in early February, before the national vaccination campaign began.
In a comment on television, Prime Minister Kim Bu-gyeom said the government “is very sorry for neglecting to manage the health of the soldiers devoted to the country.”
In another speech, Defense Minister Seo Wook said to the crew, their families, and the general public, “I feel a heavy responsibility for (occurrence) and offer a heartfelt apology.”
Sue said all seafarers would be transferred to hospitals or quarantine facilities when they returned to South Korea on Tuesday night. He said the government would take steps to prevent similar outbreaks, including South Korean troops sent abroad.
The cause of the 4,400-ton class destroyer has not been announced. However, military officials had previously suspected that the outbreak had begun when the destroyer anchored at a port in the area and loaded supplies in late June.
South Korea has been conducting anti-piracy activities in the Gulf of Aden since 2009.
The military aircraft dispatched to bring the sailors back carried other Navy personnel who were expected to take King Munmu to South Korea for a month. According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, another South Korean destroyer was heading to the area to replace King Munmu.
Destroyer outbreaks occur when South Korea is fighting the worst pandemic surge in the country.
On Tuesday, South Korea reported 1,278 new cases of the virus. It was the 14th consecutive day that South Korea reported more than 1,000 new cases.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, South Korea has reported 180,481 infections and 2,059 deaths.