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. Chinese sailors fend off Somali pirates amid fresh attacks

Chinese sailors, coalition forces foil pirates off Somalia: IMB
Kuala Lumpur (AFP) Dec 17 - Chinese sailors backed up by a coalition warship and helicopters foiled a pirate attack in a dramatic high-seas encounter off the coast of Somalia, a maritime watchdog said Wednesday. The band of pirates boarded the Chinese-owned vessel "Zhenhua 4" 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. Choong said the alert was raised Wednesday after the IMB received a distress call, setting off a chain of communications with the ship owners and coalition forces patrolling the pirate-infested region. A warship was dispatched to the area, and the IMB sent the stricken Chinese vessel coordinates of a meeting point so the crew could reach assistance more quickly. "It's good news but it took several hours for all this to happen," Choong said. "So everyone is safe but it was a real drama. We were actively involved for several hours, we were calling here and calling there." Choong said he could not confirm the number of sailors on board, although Chinese state media said there were 30. The official news Xinhua agency had reported that the sailors were missing after the attack in the Gulf of Aden which occurred at 0443 GMT.
by Staff Writers
Mogadishu (AFP) Dec 17, 2008
Chinese sailors fought off Somali pirates trying to hijack their ship in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday in a new wave of attacks that saw three other vessels captured.

The high-seas drama heightened after the UN authorised land operations against the sea bandits who are currently demanding ransoms for a Saudi super-tanker, an arms-laden Ukrainian freighter and other ships.

China said it was considering sending warships to the pirate-infested waters as the International Maritime Bureau gave details of how Chinese sailors fought off an attack with the help of international navies.

A band of pirates boarded the "Zhenhua 4" on Wednesday, but the sailors held them off for several hours, giving the international coalition time to rush forces to the vessel.

"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 IMB 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 was the latest successful intervention by a newly created European Union task force, which has taken over patrols off the Horn of Africa from NATO.

But Somali pirates captured 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 two people and two commercial ships: a cargo vessel, the Bosphorus Progidy; and a tug serving as an oil industry support ship, said Mwangura.

The 11 crew of the Bosphorus Prodigy -- three Turkish and eight Ukrainian -- were safe, the Turkish firm that owns the vessel said.

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.

But the force kept pirates from hijacking a Singapore tanker, an Italian cargo ship and a Greek ship last week, Choong said.

"Coalition forces deployed a helicopter to ward off the attacks. The three ships managed to escape," he said.

The EU naval force, which started operations on December 8, has six warships, three surveillance planes and four helicopters.

China's deputy foreign minister He Yafei said his country may send warships to fight the piracy off Somalia, in what would be an unprecedented gesture by China.

"China is seriously considering sending naval ships to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast for escorting operations in the near future," the official was quoted as saying by the state Xinhua news agency.

International efforts to counter the increasingly bold raids were boosted Tuesday when the UN Security Council approved operations against the pirates' land lairs in lawless Somalia.

A text, co-sponsored by Belgium, France, Greece, Liberia and South Korea, gives nations already involved in battling pirates off Somalia a one-year mandate to act against the brigands inside the country.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the resolution sent a "strong signal to combat the scourge of piracy."

Pirates have carried out more than 100 attacks in the key shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean since the start of this year.

Last month, they hijacked the Saudi super-tanker Sirius Star, carrying two million barrels of crude oil, and demanded a 25-million dollar ransom for the boat and its crew.

It is one of about 17 ships, including an arms-laden Ukrainian cargo vessel, currently in pirate hands.

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Pentagon warns of "practical challenges" of combating pirates
Washington (AFP) Dec 16, 2008
The Pentagon cautioned Tuesday that there were "practical challenges" to taking action against pirates inside Somalia despite having the authority to do so under a new US Security Council resolution.

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