24 Chinese crew free after Arabian Sea hijacking

Twenty-four Chinese sailors were rescued Friday after the Indian navy warned off pirates who hijacked the cargo ship a day earlier in the Arabian Sea, China and India said.

An Indian navy maritime reconnaissance plane was dispatched based on a distress call and the plane crew used communication channels to tell the pirates Indian warships were on the way, said M. Nambiar, an Indian navy spokesman. The crew also alerted NATO ships nearby, he told The Associated Press.

After the warning, the pirates used their skiff to return to their mother ship. "The pirates fled from the merchant vessel," Nambiar said.

The Chinese crew were safe and in good condition, China's Ministry of Transport said on its website. The Panama-registered ship had been hijacked by seven pirates Thursday morning.

The incident occurred nearly 450 miles (720 kilometers) off India's southwestern coast of Lakshadweep — an island archipelago. Pirates from Somalia, which has not had a functioning government in two decades, are active in the region.

China, India, Russia and NATO countries have navy ships in the region to escort commercial vessels and make anti-piracy patrols.

Confrontations with pirates have turned increasingly violent in recent months. Pirates typically command about $5 million to release a ship and crew.

The Indian navy has seized around 120 pirates over the past few months, and other countries have detained suspects for prosecution as well.