Chinese crew outwit hijackers to save ship

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 April, 2012, 12:00am


The crew of a hijacked mainland cargo ship were yesterday praised for their bravery and quick thinking in helping thwart a hijacking by Somali pirates off the southern coast of Iran.

The Iranian Navy rescued all 28 crew late on Friday, less than nine hours after the Panamanian-registered Xianghuamen, owned by the Nanjing Ocean Shipping Company, was seized 20 nautical miles south of the Iranian port of Chabahar.

The crew were able to disconnect the ship's power supply before the AK-47-wielding hijackers overran the ship, preventing it from being taken away.

The ship's captain and five crew later evaded their captors and slipped overboard, swimming about two nautical miles to the Iranian Navy ship where they raised the alarm, China National Radio said.

'China's ambassador in Tehran, Yu Hongyang, has been in touch with the crew and congratulated them on their safe rescue on behalf of the central committee of the China Communist Party, the State Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,' the Chinese embassy said in Tehran.

The Xianghuamen sailed from Shanghai with a cargo of steel and unspecified equipment. After unloading some of its cargo in Singapore, it was bound for Port Khomeini when it was hijacked by the nine Somali pirates in the Gulf of Oman.

Yu told Xinhua that the pirates approached the ship in several speedboats while firing their guns. 'The pirates used their own ladders to climb aboard and take the 28 crew hostage,' Yu said.

On hearing of the attack, the Chinese embassy immediately asked Iran for military assistance, while contacting the ships' owner for the crew manifest, Yu said. Iranian warships were dispatched and located the freighter that afternoon. Two warships trailed the freighter, which the pirates initially had ordered to head for Somalia, Yu said.

'The Chinese crew were very brave and clever,' Yu said. 'They disabled the ship's engine when the pirates were not looking and it began drifting without power on the tide.'

In a phone interview with China National Radio, the captain of the Xianghuamen, who was not named, recounted how the bravery of some crew members had saved their lives.

'I talked with the chief mate and chief engineers. We agreed that we couldn't let the pirates take the ship to Somalia, as it would take a long time for us and the ship to be rescued. There we might even be killed,' he said. 'So we cut off the contingent power and the ship stopped.'

The captain said the pirates became enraged and beat some of the crew, but no one was badly hurt.

Later, the captain and five crew members slipped overboard and swam to the Iran warship to tell them what was happening. When the warship then sent an armed boarding party, the pirates abandoned their plan to seize the ship and jumped overboard. The Iranians captured them and took them to the warship, the captain said.

The crew were 'emotionally stable' and were able to talk to their families via satellite phone, the captain said.

Mu Ling, chairman of Nanjing Ocean Shipping, said yesterday that the company would award each crew member US$10,000 for their bravery in outwitting the pirates and saving the ship, China News Service said.