Notwithstanding the strain in ties, the navies of India and China carried out a well coordinated operation to rescue a merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden which was hijacked by Somali pirates last night.
After getting a distress call about the attack on the cargo vessel OS 35, Indian Navy sent warships INS Mumbai and INS Tarkash while the Chinese Navy also responded to the call for help by moving in its missile frigate Yulin.
The merchant ship, with 19 Filipino crew members, was travelling from Kelang in Malaysia to the port city of Aden in Yemen when it came under attack from Somali pirates.
While the Indian Navy deployed a helicopter that provided air cover, the Chinese side sent in a team of 18 personnel to sanitise the merchant ship registered in the Pacific island of Tuvalu. The two Indian warships were in the region as part of an overseas deployment.
"In a show of international maritime cooperation against piracy, a boarding party from the nearby Chinese Navy ship went on board the merchant ship, while the Indian Naval helicopter provided air cover for the operation. It has been established that all 19 Filipino crew members are safe," Navy spokesperson Capt D K Sharma said.
The well coordinated operation by navies of India and China comes amid strain in ties between the two Asian giants over a range of issues including the Dalai Lama's visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, China's opposition to India's NSG membership and Beijing blocking India's effort to get JeM chief Masood Azhar declared as global terrorist by the UN.
At the end of the operation, the Chinese Navy thanked the Indian navy for its role in successful operation. The Indian Navy also complimented the Chinese side.
The Indian Navy had swung into action after getting a call from UK's Maritime Trade Organisation UKMTO that keeps a vigil on movement of the ships in the region. Pakistani and Italian warships had also responded to calls for help and reached the spot.
The Indian warships established contact with the captain of the merchant vessel who along with the crew had locked themselves in a strong room on board as per standard operating procedure.
An Indian Navy helicopter undertook aerial reconnaissance of the merchant vessel at night and at sunrise to sanitise the upper decks of the merchant ship and ascertain the location of pirates, if still on board.
The pirates had fled from the ship after warships of India and China moved in.
"Indian Navy's helicopter cover, and on receiving the 'all clear signal' that no pirates were visible on the upper decks, some crew members gradually emerged from the strong room and carried out a search of the ship and ascertained that the pirates had fled the ship at night," the navy spokesperson said.
The captain of the merchant vessel profusely thanked the Indian Naval ships for their response and for providing air cover, he said.