BEIJING // A Singapore-flagged cargo ship with 19 Chinese crew that was hijacked in June by pirates off the coast of Somalia has been rescued, the Chinese transport ministry said Saturday.
The MV Golden Blessing, a petroleum and chemical tanker, was travelling to India from Saudi Arabia when it was hijacked in late June, maritime authorities said at the time.
"The 19 Chinese crew and the ship Golden Blessing were rescued safely at 1:03 am Beijing time," the ministry said in a statement posted on its website. "The 19 Chinese crew are safe. At present, the Golden Blessing is heading to safe waters under Chinese naval escort."
The statement did not say how the ship had been rescued, or if anyone was arrested in the process. Calls to the transport ministry went unanswered.
A spokesman for Golden Pacific International Holdings, which owns the ship, declined to comment when asked by AFP about the rescue.
Singapore maritime authorities said in June that the ship had been chartered by Shanghai Dingheng Shipping Co Ltd.
In a separate development Somali pirates said Saturday they had received a record nine million dollar ransom in a helicopter air drop for the release of a South Korean supertanker, Samho Dream, with 24 crew.
"The boat was freed this morning after the payment of nine million dollars to my colleagues," one of the pirates told AFP by telephone.
"The money was dropped by helicopter and they (the pirates) are in the process of sharing it," Abdi Yare said from the port of Hobyo.
Heavily armed pirates using speedboats operate in the Gulf of Aden where they prey on ships, sometimes holding vessels for weeks before releasing them for large ransoms paid by governments or ship-owners.
In October 2009, a Chinese cargo ship called the Dexinhai with 25 crew members on board was captured by pirates northeast of the Seychelles as it was sailing to India from South Africa.
Dozens of vessels from navies around the world now patrol the shipping lanes off the Somalia coast and into the Gulf of Aden. China has been active in international anti-piracy efforts in the area since the end of 2008.
Last December, Yin Zhuo, an admiral and senior researcher at the navy's Equipment Research Centre, even proposed setting up a permanent base to support ships on anti-piracy missions in the gulf.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called piracy a "scourge", and a UN report released this week said pirates had staged 37 successful ship hijackings in the first 10 months of 2010, up from 33 in the same period of 2009.
International Maritime Organisation (IMO) inquiries "imply that the level of violence employed by the pirates has increased," said the UN document, prepared for the UN Security Council.
The vessel was held on the Somali coast and was only recovered at the end of December following the payment of a 3.5-million-dollar ransom. The international military presence has reduced the number of attacks and hijackings in the Gulf of Aden shipping lanes, but the pirates now roam the southern end of the Red Sea and even venture as far as the Maldives, it said.
More than 130 suspected Somali pirates, brought in mainly by foreign navies deployed off Somalia since 2008, are being held in Kenyan prisons and dozens have been sentenced to jail terms, but successful prosecutions are difficult.
Kenya and the Seychelles are the only coastal countries to have agreed to try suspects handed over by the foreign navies.Ban has appointed a piracy envoy, former French minister Jack Lang, who is drawing up recommendations on new international legal weapons against pirates.
The UN Security Council could pass a new resolution on piracy this month.