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Copters sent to thwart pirate attack

Bandits abandon Chinese ship off the Somali coast

Indian Navy sailors escorted 12 suspected Somali pirates, caught in the Gulf of Aden last week, before handing them over to Yemeni officials yesterday. A large arms cache was also seized. Indian Navy sailors escorted 12 suspected Somali pirates, caught in the Gulf of Aden last week, before handing them over to Yemeni officials yesterday. A large arms cache was also seized. (Yemen News Agency)
By Ahmed al-Haj
Associated Press / December 18, 2008
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SAN'A, Yemen - An international antipiracy force thwarted the attempted takeover of a Chinese cargo ship off the Somali coast yesterday, sending attack helicopters that fired on the bandits and forced them to abandon the ship they had boarded.

In another blow to the region's thriving piracy trade, the Indian Navy handed over 23 pirates it caught at sea to authorities in Yemen.

In yesterday's assault, nine pirates armed with guns overtook the Chinese ship with speedboats and boarded the vessel, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

He said the 30-member crew sent a distress message to the bureau as it saw the pirates approaching, and then barricaded themselves inside their living quarters. Choong said the bureau quickly alerted the international naval force, which dispatched two helicopters and a warship.

"Two helicopters arrived at the scene first and helped deter the hijacking. They fired at the pirates, forcing them to flee the ship," he said. There were no injuries during the five-hour ordeal.

"The Chinese ship is very fortunate to have escaped. This is a rare case where pirates have successfully boarded the ship but failed to hijack it," he added.

Somali pirates, spurred by widespread poverty in their homeland, have hijacked more than 40 vessels off their country's coastline this year. Many of the seizures have taken place in the Gulf of Aden, which lies between Somalia and Yemen and is one of the world's busiest waterways. Many of the vessels are taken to pirate-controlled regions off Somalia, where they are held for ransom.

China's official Xinhua News Agency identified the ship involved in the latest attempt as the Zhenhua 4 and said it belonged to China Communications Construction Co. and was registered in the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.

It was the latest in a series of attacks by Somali pirates on Chinese vessels.

In Yemen, meanwhile, the Indian Navy handed over 23 pirates arrested in the Gulf of Aden last Saturday after they threatened a merchant vessel in the lawless waters off the Yemeni coast, a Yemeni security official said.

The Indian sailors boarded two pirate boats and seized what was described as a substantial arms cache and equipment. The security official said the pirates included 12 Somalis and 11 Yemenis.

The handover took place in the southern port of Aden, and the pirates were to be interrogated and charged in court. He said that Yemen has the right to try Somali pirates because their arrest took place inside Yemeni waters.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media pending a government statement. He spoke by telephone from Aden.

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