Somali pirates seized a Chinese cargo ship Monday with 25 people onboard, a naval spokesman for the European Union's anti-piracy force said, in the first successful attack on a Chinese vessel since the country deployed three naval warships to the region.
Cmdr. John Harbour said that coalition forces had observed at least two pirates onboard the deck of the De Xin Hai and the cargo ship also was towing two light skiffs used by the pirates behind it. All 25 crew onboard are Chinese, he said.
The attack occurred early Monday in the Indian Ocean about 700 miles east of the lawless Somali coastline. Harbour said he believed it was the farthest afield the pirates had ever struck.
"We're pushing them further and further afield to get targets," he said, referring to a coalition of navies dedicated to fighting piracy in the region.
Analyst Roger Middleton from British thinktank Chatham House said it was unlikely that the Chinese would want to endanger the lives of their crew through direct intervention. French and American navies have both engaged pirates holding hostages, he said, but only when the navies believed the hostages' lives were in imminent danger.
'A more cautious approach'
The Chinese "probably would use a more cautious approach," Middleton said. But, he added: "We've never seen so many Chinese citizens captured at a time when Chinese ships were in the region."
A previous attack on a Chinese vessel last year was repelled when the crew used homemade Molotov cocktails to fight off their attackers.
Somali pirates have recently ramped up attacks after a period of quiet during poor weather. They use sophisticated equipment and so-called larger "mother ships" to enable them to strike hundreds of miles offshore. The multimillion-dollar ransoms they share are a fortune in their impoverished and war-ravaged country.
A total of 146 people, including the crew of the De Xin Hai, are currently being held hostage by pirates.