DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Danish and Chinese warships stopped pirates attacking two different vessels off Somalia's coast, according to reports Thursday.
In one of the incidents, the Danish ship HDMS Absalon received a distress signal Wednesday from a Chinese vessel, the Yandanghai, said Cmdr. Jane Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet. The Chinese crew of the merchant ship were fending off the pirates using their fire hoses, Campbell said.
When Danish sailors arrived at the scene, they found a skiff with seven suspected pirates, armed with a rocket-propelled grenade, four AK-47 assault rifles, two grenades and a knife.
Suspected pirates were disarmed, but not detained, Campbell said.
The Absalon is part of a U.S.-led task force set up last month to combat piracy along the lawless coast of Somalia, where attacks on shipping skyrocketed last year.
In a separate incident, the Chinese Navy rescued an Italian ship from a pirate attack off Somalia, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported.
The agency gave few details in a one-line report on the incident. It said the rescued ship was an Liberian-flagged Italian merchant vessel whose crew had been attacked.
If verified, it would be the first direct engagement between the Chinese navy and Somali pirates since Beijing dispatched a three-ship squadron for anti-piracy operations last December.
Somali waters are now patrolled by more than a dozen warships from countries including Britain, France, Germany, Iran and the United States. South Korea has also ordered warships sent to the region to protect its vessels and crews from pirates and Japan is preparing to send its own naval squadron to the region next month.
The Chinese force includes a supply ship and two destroyers armed with guided missiles, special forces and two helicopters. The force has previously restricted its operations mainly to escorting Chinese and Hong Kong vessels through the pirate-infested waters.
The squadron's dispatch late last year was the first time the Communist country has sent ships on a mission that could involve fighting so far beyond its territorial waters.
Well-armed and well-funded Somali pirates have received tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments and attacked and seized dozens of vessels. High-profile seizures include a Saudi oil tanker and a Ukrainian ship laden with tanks, both recently released.