On Tuesday, Defense Minister Suh Wook aired his apologies over the failure of the military to prevent the spread of virus infections in the Cheonghae naval unit in the waters off Africa for an anti-piracy mission.
This came in the heels of the clustering of cases with 82 percent or 247 out of the 301 sailors in the unit having tested positive for the virus. Considered as the worst-ever clustering of cases among the members, it was notable that poor initial responses were given as the first sailor to have manifested the symptoms was only provided with cold medicine.
The unit was also not included in the defense ministry’s vaccination campaign, which triggered criticisms. According to officials, the unit had departed for Africa prior to the start of the vaccination campaign and it was hard to transport vaccines out of South Korea over safety concerns and contracts made with vaccine manufacturers.
“I’d like to extend my deepest apologies … for failing to more carefully take care of Cheonghae Unit members, who have devoted themselves to the nation and the people out at sea, resulting in many being infected. I feel heavy responsibility,” the defense minister said in a message.
Suh said there were shortcomings on the government side to assure that troops are protected with the vaccine as he committed to establish and apply follow-up steps for military members’ safety overseas.
All the sailors in the unit are set to come home today via aerial tankers and will be brought to military treatment centers intended for COVID-19 patients. Their return was a month earlier than the original schedule.
“The Cheonghae unit members are scheduled to arrive here this evening after successfully carrying out their missions. The defense ministry will do its best to help them recover their health,” according to Suh, as reported by The Korea Herald.
The outbreak of infections in the unit seemed to have started from June 28 to July 1 while the destroyer, the Munmu the Great, was at the African port to replenish supplies.