Somali pirates threaten to kill Korean hostages

* Pirates say will avenge killing of comrades by commandos

* Maritime expert says pirates are panicked

BOSASSO, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Somali pirates threatened on Sunday to kill any South Korean seamen they take hostage in future in revenge for the killing of eight pirates by South Korean troops who stormed a hijacked vessel.

Pirates from two bases on the Somali coast said they were taking some crews held as hostages off their vessels and moving them inland in case of more rescue attempts by the fleet of foreign warships patrolling off the lawless country’s shores.

Somali pirates typically do not harm their captives because they expect to negotiate a lucrative ransom for the release of a vessel. But now they say they want to avenge the deaths of their comrades.

“We never planned to kill but now we shall seek revenge,” a pirate who identified himself as Mohamed told Reuters by phone.

“We shall never take a ransom from Korean ships, we shall burn them and kill their crew. We shall redouble our efforts. Korea has put itself in trouble by killing my colleagues,” he said from the pirate haven of Garad.

South Korea’s navy rescued all 21 crew aboard the chemical carrier Samho Jewelry on Friday [ID:nTOE70K04N]. The vessel belonged to Samho Shipping, whose oil supertanker Samho Dream was released in November after being held by Somali pirates for seven months.

The pirates said they had received a record ransom of $9.5 million for the release of the supertanker. [ID:nLDE6A506Q]

“We have started taking the crew of (hijacked) ships inland and we have tightened our security. We lost great men in the fight with South Korean commandos,” said a pirate called Hussein.

It was not possible to verify the movement of hostages. A Kenya-based maritime official told Reuters pirates often transferred crews when panicked but expressed doubts over the threat to kill Korean crews.

“They are jumpy right now and they could do anything. But their main objective is always money,” said Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme.

A report earlier this month estimated the cost of piracy globally at $7 billion to 12 billion a year, and said the frequent hijackings off the Horn of Africa were driving up shipping costs in the Indian Ocean. [ID:nLDE70C1HG] (Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Mohamed Ahmed in Mogadishu and Richard Lough in Nairobi; Writing by Richard Lough; editing by Tim Pearce)