Pirates from Somalia who hijacked a Chinese bulk carrier in the Indian Ocean threatened yesterday to execute its 25 Chinese crew members if any rescue operation was attempted.
The De Xin Hai was carrying about 76 000 tonnes of coal from South Africa to India when it was seized by gunmen some 700 nautical miles east of the failed Horn of Africa state.
“We tell China not to endanger the lives of their people with any rescue operation,” Hassan, an associate of the gang, told Reuters by phone from the pirate stronghold Haradheere.
“If they try that we will execute the whole crew we tell them to change their mind regarding any rescue, otherwise they will regret it. We know what they are planning to do.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu told reporters earlier in Beijing that his government had “actively started rescue operations” for the ship, but declined to give details.
Observers said they expected a diplomatic resolution.
Indian coal traders feared the incident the first reported hijacking of a coal vessel by Somali pirates could mean the gunmen would start targeting other coal ships as these dry bulk vessels are smaller and have a relatively small crew.
That could disrupt an expected increase in the volume of South African coal heading to India over the coming months, following a boom in Indian demand during the past two years.
The European Union’s counter-piracy force said an EU maritime patrol aircraft had located the vessel earlier this week.
“The aircraft spotted at least four pirates on the deck and the vessel is towing two skiffs. It was last reported heading west towards the Somali coast,” said John Harbour, a spokesman for the EU naval force in Brussels.
Hassan told Reuters his colleagues were planning to sail the captured ship to either Haradheere or Hobyo, both former fishing villages north of Mogadishu that have become pirate bases.
A spokesperson for its owner, Qingdao Ocean Shipping Co. Ltd., told China’s official Xinhua news agency that it had received a report from the ship at 3:50 p.m. Beijing time earlier this week saying that armed pirates were on board, but then it lost contact.
Despite a major deployment this year by foreign navies in the strategic shipping lanes linking Europe to Asia through the Suez Canal, pirate gangs have continued to terrorise the waters off Somalia, making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.
Last week, Somali gunmen captured a Singapore-owned container ship, the MV Kota Wajar, which had 21 crew on board.
Among others vessels, the pirates are also holding a Spanish fishing boat with 36 sailors that they hijacked on Oct. 2. That gang says it will not negotiate their release until colleagues facing hijacking charges in Madrid are freed.
China sent three warships to Somali waters late last year after a ship carrying oil to China was attacked by pirates. But the Chinese warships, like those of other navies, mostly patrol the narrow Gulf of Aden, not the much larger Indian Ocean.