Image: USNS Catawba
Mc1 Michael R. Mccormick  /  AP
The U.S. Navy fleet ocean tug USNS Catawba provides fuel and fresh water to Motor Vessel Faina following its release by Somali pirates Feb. 5.
updated 2/8/2009 4:19:19 PM ET 2009-02-08T21:19:19

Somali pirates released a Chinese fishing vessel and its multinational crew Sunday from nearly three months of captivity, as Japan announced plans to dispatch two destroyers to the African coast to protect its commercial vessels from piracy, reports said.

Chinese naval ships were escorting the fishing boat, the Tianyu No. 8, to safe waters after its release, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported. Its 24-member crew — 15 mainland Chinese, one Taiwanese, one Japanese, three Filipinos and four Vietnamese — were safe but would receive medical examinations, it said.

China's government expressed appreciation for the crew's release, it said, without giving further details.

The boat was hijacked Nov. 13 while fishing off the coast of Kenya and ordered by pirates to sail north to the Somali port of Kismanyu, Xinhua reported earlier.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, attending a security conference in Germany on Saturday, told reporters of the planned deployment of destroyers near Somalia next month, Japan's Kyodo News agency said.

A government fact-finding team departed for the region Sunday ahead of the dispatch of the 4,650-ton Sazanami and the 4,550-ton Samidare, it said. A bill for the deployment is before Japan's parliament and is expected to pass.

Defense Ministry officials were not available for comment Sunday.

Somalia is located along the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest waterways, where pirates launched more than 100 attacks on ships last year and took millions of dollars in ransom.

No Japanese ships have been hijacked, but pirates have opened fire on three Japanese vessels.

Somalia, a nation of about 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other. Its lawless coastline is a haven for pirates.

The U.N. Security Council has authorized countries to enter Somalia's territorial waters, with advance notice, and use "all necessary means" to stop piracy and armed robbery at sea.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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