Cargo ship, China crew rescued from pirates

May 6, 2011

, BEIJING, May 6 – A Panama-registered cargo ship seized by pirates in the Arabian Sea has been rescued along with the 24 Chinese sailors aboard, the transport ministry in Beijing said Friday.

US and Turkish teams freed the vessel, Full City, late Thursday, several hours after it had been hijacked about 800 kilometres (500 miles) off the Indian city of Mumbai, the ministry said, citing the China Sea Rescue Centre.

An Indian navy reconnaissance aircraft had spotted a pirate "mother ship" and an empty skiff alongside the bulk carrier and warned the pirates by radio that a naval patrol was closing in, the Indian navy said in an emailed statement.

"The aircraft observed that the warning had the desired effect and the skiff was seen fleeing from the ship along with the pirates," the statement said.

Indian defence ministry spokesman Captain M. Nambiar told AFP it was not clear how many pirates had been trying to take the ship, although reports said there were up to seven.

It was also not clear whether a ransom was paid but the sailors were all said to be in good condition.

Heavily armed pirates using speedboats operate in and around the Gulf of Aden where they prey on ships, sometimes holding vessels for weeks before releasing them for large ransoms paid by governments or ship owners.

The Chinese navy participates in an international anti-piracy force in the area.

Similar attacks on shipping have become increasingly common off the coast of India, as pirates seek to evade the clutches of an international maritime force patrolling the waters off lawless Somalia.

More than 100 pirates have been caught and are awaiting trial following a series of violent skirmishes near India\’s Lakshadweep islands since the start of this year.

But maritime industry analysts have warned India\’s hardline approach had made the country "public enemy number one" for pirates and could force a switch in tactics to attacking shipping off the Maldives and south India.

Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau\’s piracy reporting centre, in Kuala Lumpur, said attacks off western India showed how far Somalia-based pirates had extended their reach.

"Our major concern is that they will continue to go farther. Once they reach this area, the next one will be off Sri Lanka, and then on to the Malacca Strait," he added.

The Malacca Strait is a vital international waterway with more than 30 percent of global trade and half the world\’s oil shipments passing through it annually.

Once the global hotspot for pirate attacks, security has improved substantially there in recent years thanks to coordinated patrols by nations bordering the waterway.

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