Chinese navy ship supported by an Indian navy helicopter thwarted an attack on a Tuvalu-flagged merchant ship by suspected Somali pirates, India’s defence ministry said on Sunday. The ship, known as OS 35, was reported to be under attack on Saturday. The defence ministry said four of its navy ships in the vicinity responded to a distress signal from the ship and reached the bulk carrier early on Sunday. It said that the crew had taken refuge in the ship’s strong room, known as the citadel, once they learnt they were under attack in line with established safe shipping operating procedures.
“An Indian Navy helicopter undertook aerial reconnaissance of the merchant vessel at night, and at sunrise … (to) ascertain the location of pirates, if still on board,” the defence ministry said in a statement. “Subsequently … a boarding party from the nearby Chinese Navy ship went on board the merchant ship, while the Indian Naval helicopter provided air cover for the operation.”
The defence ministry said all the 19 Filipino crew of the ship were safe and the captain of the ship thanked the Indian Naval ships for their response and for providing air cover. John Steed of aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy told Reuters the ship was sailing under navy escort to its next port.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which coordinates shipping in the Gulf of Aden area, said on its website the pirates had used a skiff to approach the vessel. The attempted hijacking comes days after pirates seized an Indian dhow that was on route to Bossaso from Dubai.
Experts said some ship owners were becoming lax after a long period of calm, and that some were using a route known as the Socotra Gap, between Somalia and Socotra Island, regardless of the piracy risks, to save time and cost. At their peak in 2011, pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia, according to the International Maritime Bureau, and took hundreds of hostages. Their actions cost the world economy $7 billion and earned the pirates some $160 million in ransoms, according to the bureau.