SAN'A, Yemen – An international anti-piracy force thwarted the attempted takeover of a Chinese cargo ship off the Somali coast on Wednesday, sending in 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 Wednesday'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, 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 in Somalia, where they are held for ransom.
China's official Xinhua News Agency identified the boat 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. On Tuesday, said it was considering sending warships to the area to help battle piracy.
The announcement came during a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote to authorize nations to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases on the coast of Somalia.
"The area is just too wide to patrol. Hopefully with the U.N. resolution, there will be more firm action to stop this menace," Choong said.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei told the council that China was considering sending warships to the Gulf of Aden to join ships from the U.S., Russia, Denmark, Italy and other countries.
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 at the time. 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 stressed 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 media pending a government statement. He spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from Aden.