10/23/2009, 00.00
CHINA

Chinese ship seized by pirates reaches Somali coast

Questions remain as to whether China’s Navy will attack to free the hostages. If that happens, it would be China’s first naval battle in centuries. Ship seizure sparks a patriotic wave online.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The De Xin Hai, a Chinese bulk carrier, was seized by Somali pirates and is now anchored off the coast of Somalia. EU Navfor, the European Union anti-piracy force, confirmed yesterday the ship had arrived off the coast of Somalia and was near Hobyo. It was captured on 19 October in the Indian Ocean between the Seychelles and Maldives.

It is still not clear what Chinese authorities will do to free the 25 crewmembers on board, but they vowed “all-out efforts” to rescue ship and crew without endangering their lives.

The De Xin Hai carried coal, heading to India from South Africa when it was hijacked.

Until recently, piracy was centred mainly in the Gulf of Aden region. This is the first time a vessel was captured so far from the Somali coastline.

In addition to the De Xin Hai, pirates also hijacked a Panamanian-flagged carrier, bringing the total number of international vessels in their hands to seven.

Usually, such situations have been solved by the payment of ransom money; it is not clear whether China will do the same.

Three Chinese Navy ships are in the Indian Ocean, and are now sailing towards the Somali coast. They will join ships from NATO, the European Union, the United States, Japan, South Korea and Russia that have been deployed in the area in an attempt to secure merchant shipping.

In China, the hijack saga off Somalia has stoked the fires of nationalism online, with patriotic internet users calling for a showdown between the three Chinese navy ships and the pirates.

"Our government's authority would be undermined if we surrender to pirates, and this would be a disaster for the leaders and the general public,” someone wrote online.

China is a major world country and also a permanent member of the UN Security Council, so giving in to terrorism and piracy would make us the laughing stock of the world,” said another.

Various experts believe that China’s Navy is eager for a showdown. For months, the Chinese military have been showing off their modern weaponry and professionalism, displayed in great pomp and ceremony during 1 October celebrations.

If China does take on the pirates, it would be the first time in centuries that Chinese naval forces are involved in combat outside the country’s territorial waters.

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