DELHI • A 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 yesterday.
The ship, known as OS 35, was reported to be under attack last Saturday.
The Indian 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 yesterday.
It said that the crew had taken refuge in the ship's strongroom 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. Aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy's John Steed told Reuters the ship was sailing under navy escort to its next port.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, 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 en route to Bossaso, Somalia 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.