Chinese sailors backed up by international navies fought off Somali pirates trying to hijack their ship on Wednesday, as the UN authorised land operations against the increasingly bold bandits land.
The dramatic high-seas encounter was among a fresh wave of attacks by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, where three other ships were hijacked on Tuesday, as China considered whether to send warships to the pirate-infested waters.
A band of pirates boarded the Chinese-owned vessel “Zhenhua 4” on Wednesday, but the sailors prevented them from invading their crew accommodation for several hours — enough time to seek help from the coalition forces.
“I’m actually very surprised that the crew managed to hold back the pirates. I don’t know how they did it, but they did it,” said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur.
“Because of this action, the military helicopters came and they managed to chase the pirates away. The pirates on board eventually left the ship and the master is proceeding on his course,” he told AFP.
The rescue of the Chinese crew was the latest successful intervention from the newly created European Union naval task force, which has taken over patrols off the Horn of Africa from NATO.
But Somali pirates managed to capture three other ships in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday, said Andrew Mwangura of the Kenyan chapter of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme.
The pirates seized a yacht crewed by just two people and two commercial ships: a cargo vessel, the Bosphorus Progidy; and a tug serving as an oil industry support ship, said Mwangura.
French oil giant Total said the tug, owned by Malaysia’s Muhibbah Engineering, had a crew of 11 and had been working for them.
Choong also said pirates had hijacked a Turkish cargo ship, a Malaysian tug boat and attacked three other vessels in the Gulf of Aden in the past week.
“Despite the European Union armada to patrol the Gulf of Aden, the pirates manage to attack and hijack ships because the number of warships is insufficient to secure the vast sea,” said Choong.
Meanwhile, the Indian navy handed over on Wednesday 12 Somali and 11 Yemeni pirates it caught at sea to authorities in Yemen, a security official said.
The handover took place in the southern port of Aden, said the Yemeni official, adding that the pirates will be interrogated and later sent to face charges in court.
He stressed that Yemen has the right to try Somali pirates because their arrest took place inside Yemeni waters.