BANDAR ABBAS, Iran, April 9 – “It is the most scary moment in my life when the Iranian navy was exchanging fire with the Somali pirates,” Meng Qingchang, the second mate of the rescued freighter Xianghuamen, told Xinhua on Saturday.
The Panama-registered cargo ship, belonging to Nanjing Ocean Shipping Company in eastern China, was hijacked on Friday morning, at about 8:40 a.m. local time (0410 GMT), by nine Somali pirates in the Sea of Oman near Iran’s southern port of Chabahar.
Later on the day, concerted efforts of the Chinese and Iranian governments led to the successful rescue of all 28 Chinese crew members.
A five-member delegation from the Chinese embassy in Tehran, headed by Chinese ambassador Yu Hongyang, got aboard the cargo ship off Iran’s southern port city of Bandar Abbas on Saturday afternoon to visit the rescued crew.
The crew members told Xinhua reporters travelling with the Chinese diplomats their heartquake moments when being held hostage by the pirates.
“We were extremely frightened and 27 of us were hiding in the controlling cabin when the pirates began to break open the doors,” said Xu Hongbing, the chief motorman on board.
“Finally, the pirates tried to break the last of the four doors of the controlling cabin after the first three doors were broken,” he said.
In order to ensure safety and not to anger the pirates, the crew opened the last door of the controlling cabin and were seized.
After identifying the captain He Feng and forcing him to provide the crewmen list, the pirates found one crew member was missing.
The pirates wielding axes coerced Meng into locating the missing 28th crew member, Zhang Yong, who was found in the incinerator.
Later the pirates ordered the crew members to sail the ship for the sea off Somalia when one Iranian naval warship requested several times the cargo ship to stop.
The pirates ignored the requests, keeping sailing the vessel and asking Meng to reply to the Iranian warship that the crew members of Xianghuamen were hijacked and safe.
“If the Iranian warship continues to order the freighter to stop, the safety of the crew members will be under threat,” Meng said, citing the pirates.
Pointing guns at the crewmen and urging the Iranian warship to stay 20 miles away from Xianghuamen by threatening otherwise they would punish the seized crew members, the pirates required Meng to tell the Iranian warship that there were 22 pirates instead of nine actually.
The Iranian warship ignored the warning and continued to follow the cargo ship.
After capturing the communication signals between Xianghuamen and the Iranian warship, another cargo ship nearby asked Meng to report in Chinese the exact number of pirates on board. The English-speaking pirates could not understand Chinese.
“In this way we finally sent related information that helped the later rescue operations successfully to the outside world,” said Li Shengming, the chief engineer.
At around 5:00 p.m. (1230 GMT) the Iranian warship exchanged fire with the pirates. Five crew members shut down the engine system of the vessel and jumped into the sea.
The angry pirates demanded the remaining crew members to restart the engine system but they failed, because only three of the five crew members who jumped into the sea knew how to restore the engine system.
After being beaten by the pirates for inability to restart the engine system, captain He also jumped into the sea.
As the vessel could not sail forward, the nine Somali pirates got nervous under Iranian warship’s firing. They finally threw their weapons into the sea and surrendered to the Iranian navy.
Li Guwen, the only crew member injured in the exchange of fire, said a stray bullet fired by Somali pirates grazed his head.
“I was scared by the sound of firing, and I even didn’t know that I was hurt until my colleges saw my bleeding head,” he said.
The six crew members who jumped into the sea were later rescued by the Iranian naval warship. They spent one night in the warship before being sent back to Xianghuamen cargo ship.
“They (Iranian navy) treated us well, providing us with clean and dry clothes. We were served the same food as they had,” Li Chaoqun, one of the crew members who jumped into the sea, told Xinhua