Thursday, October 22, 2009
China has vowed to rescue the crew of a coal-laden cargo ship seized by pirates far off the coast of Somalia, but a negotiated settlement is more likely, maritime experts said Wednesday. European naval officials said that the 25 Chinese crew members of the seized ship, the De Xin Hai, were uninjured but that the captors were moving the vessel toward the Somali coast, where the hostages were expected to join 120 other hostages from other countries who are also awaiting their freedom. The seizure of the ship, which was attacked on Monday 700 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, suggests that pirates are traveling farther offshore in their effort to evade the international flotilla that has been sent to the Gulf of Aden to maintain security in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The ship had been en route to India from South Africa, filled with about 76,000 tons of coal. It is not the first time a Chinese vessel has been attacked by pirates off Somalia; a fishing vessel, the Tianyu No. 8, was hijacked by pirates last November and a second vessel, the Zhenhua 4, repulsed a pirate attack last December. But maritime experts said the seizure of the De Xin Hai represented the first time that a vessel had been raided so far out at sea, well beyond the corridor, which is 300 nautical miles off the coast, in which ships can expect some protection. “We’ve effectively clamped down and prevented many acts of piracy, which has pushed them further out into the ocean,” said Cmdr. John Harbor, a spokesman for the European Union Naval Force, whose main task is to protect ships carrying food aid to Somalia. Despite a brief lull during the monsoon season that just ended, pirate attacks off the Somali coast have increased this year.
De Xin HaiIn a report released Wednesday, the London-based International Maritime Bureau documented 47 attacks during the first nine months of 2009, up from 12 during the same period last year. Despite the spike in attempted raids, only one in nine was actually successful, compared with one in six last year, according to Cyrus Mody, the bureau’s manager. “It’s primarily because of increased cooperation between naval vessels and merchant ships,” Mr. Mody said in a telephone interview. “The masters of the ships have also learned how to prevent pirates from boarding until help can arrive.” On Tuesday, China issued strong words, suggesting that it might attempt to rescue those captured. “We will continue to follow developments closely and make all-out efforts to rescue the hijacked ship and personnel,” said Ma Zhaoxu, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. Last year China sent three warships to the region, although they, like most patrol vessels, stay within the Gulf of Aden. Shipping experts said the pirates now in command of the De Xin Hai would probably continue heading toward the Somali coast. Once close to shore, the pirates were expected to drop anchor and begin negotiations with the ship’s Chinese owners. Then the haggling presumably would begin. “The normal trend has been a negotiated resolution based on the idea that the safety of the crew is of paramount importance,” said Commander Harbor of the European Union. If recent settlements are any guide, the results will be costly. In August, the owner of a German ship paid $2.7 million to free a crew of two dozen that included Filipinos, Russians and Ukrainians.