Chinese sailors backed up by international navies fought off Somali pirates trying to hijack their ship Wednesday, as the UN authorised land operations against the increasingly bold bandits on land.Convoys, convoys, convoys.
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.
The Chinese are mulling over whether to send a couple of ships to join in the anti-pirate force, as reported here:
A military strategist told China Daily that joining other countries to fight Somali pirates would be a "very good opportunity" for the Chinese navy to get into the thick of the action.
"Apart from fighting pirates, another key goal is to register the presence of the Chinese navy," Prof Li Jie, a naval researcher, told China Daily.
China has never dispatched any troops on combat missions overseas. But in 2002, two Chinese vessels - a destroyer and a supplier - spent four months on a global tour, the country's first.
Li also would not confirm the mission but added that "if the navy's special forces join in, that will be in order to counter the pirates' attempt to board other ships".