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Somali pirates release Chinese boat: foreign ministry

A Chinese fishing boat and its 24-member crew held by Somali pirates for three months were released, China's foreign affairs ministry said.

world Updated: Feb 08, 2009 19:45 IST

A Chinese fishing boat and its 24-member crew held by Somali pirates for three months were released on Sunday, China's foreign affairs ministry said.

The ship, the Tianyu No 8, which was hijacked on November 14, was released at 0900 GMT, the foreign affairs ministry said in a statement.

The ministry credited Chinese diplomats in Kenya and Ethiopia as well as the ship's owners, the Tianjin Ocean Fishing Company, with helping secure the release, but gave no further details.

It said the crew, which included 15 mainland Chinese and one Taiwanese sailor, were in the care of the Chinese navy and were undergoing health checks.

The ministry did not give the nationalities of the other eight crew members, but previous media reports had said there were four Vietnamese, three Filipinos and one Japanese on board.

The pirates had previously claimed they seized the Chinese vessel 30 miles (48 kilometres) off Somalia's southern port of Kismayu because it was fishing in Somali territorial waters, according to China's official Xinhua news agency. They said the crew would be "put before the law and punished accordingly."

The crew were unarmed when they were captured, according to previous reports.

The newly-released boat was being escorted to safety by a Chinese naval convoy sent to Gulf of Aden last month on a landmark mission to protect the country's shipping from pirates, the ministry said.

The statement made no reference to any ransom being paid to the pirates.

The naval task force, comprising two destroyers and a supply ship, was deployed in response to an escalation of pirate attacks on merchant ships, including Chinese vessels, plying the crucial shipping route linking Asia and Europe.

The force's mission marked China's first potential combat mission beyond its territorial waters in centuries.

US and European ships have also been sent to the waters off Somalia, where pirates attacked more than 100 vessels last year.

The Tianyu's release comes after the Ukrainian vessel MV Faina and its crew were freed on Thursday following four-and-a-half months of captivity. The UKrainian ship was carrying a controversial cargo of 33 Soviet-era battle tanks as well as other weaponry

According to pirates and sources close to the case, at least 3.2 million dollars in ransom money was paid for the release of the Ukrainian vessel.

First Published: Feb 08, 2009 19:42 IST