South Korea will send a team of military officers to Africa next week to determine whether Seoul should dispatch naval vessels to waters off Somalia to fight rampant piracy, the defence ministry said on Friday.
Calls for a troop dispatch to the region have risen in South Korea after pirates hijacked a cargo ship there last month. It was the third Korean vessel seized there since 2006. The ship and its 22 crew members were freed last week after a ransom was paid.
The ministry said an 11-member delegation will make a five-day trip to the US Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain as well as Djibouti bordering Somalia, beginning on Monday.
"We're now considering whether to dispatch troops," Defence Minister Lee Sang-hee told lawmakers during a parliamentary audit of the ministry on Thursday.
The South Korean navy will take a lead role during the Somalia visit, Lee said.
A NATO flotilla sailing toward the Somali coast will begin anti-piracy operations within the next few days, but officials say the alliance is still working out the rules of engagement for the seven ships.
The NATO warships will escort cargo ships carrying UN food aid to Somalia and will patrol the pirate-infested shipping lanes off the Somali coast, where 30 ships have been hijacked this year and more than 70 have been attacked.
Somalia, which has had no functioning government since 1991, is the world's top piracy hot spot. Piracy has emerged as a lucrative racket that brings in millions of dollars in ransoms.