China on Monday denied any credit for the Indian Navy for rescuing a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in the strategic Gulf of Aden, claiming that its naval ship equipped with a helicopter saved the 19-member crew.
Declining to acknowledge any role for the Indian Navy which said its chopper provided the air cover for the Chinese soldiers to enter the Tuvalu-flagged ship OS35, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the air support was provided by a Chinese helicopter attached to the ship.
The missile frigate Yulin circled the ship while its helicopter provided air cover, she said, making no mention of the Indian Navy’s helicopter support to the Chinese troops.
The Chinese naval ship, part of the 25th convoy of Chinese navy which was conducting the escort mission in the Gulf of Aden in Somali waters, rushed to the hijacked ship as soon as it received a message from UK Maritime Trade Organisation on April 8, she told reporters.
“Rescue operation was launched on early Sunday morning. Sixteen Chinese soldiers successfully boarded the timber-carrying freighter, and freed its crew,” she said.
“They also conducted a comprehensive search of the ship to make sure no pirate was on board. Nineteen crew members released from the strong room where they had taken shelter, while also searching the ship to ensure there were no further threats,” she said.
“We believe the aforementioned operation demonstrated the effectiveness of China’s naval forces in the field of fighting against pirates, as well as China’s image as a responsible major country in safeguarding regional peace and stability,” she said.
When questioned about the absence of any reference to the Indian Navy’s role in the operation, Hua said China’s ministry of defence should be approached for details.
“I have already given to you what I have learnt. The Chinese convoy received report from the UKMTO and conducted rescue operation. With regards to details I refer you to the Chinese defence ministry,” she said.
“As I just said the Chinese side is always positive towards international cooperation against pirates. This position is very clear,” she reiterated.
Her comments followed a Chinese navy statement on Sunday night that omitted any reference to the Indian Navy in providing helicopter cover to the Chinese soldiers.
When asked about the Chinese navy’s statement, Indian Navy spokesperson in New Delhi referred to his tweet, “Indian Navy Chetak Helicopter on top of PLA Navy boats carrying boarding party to MV OS35 in coordinated anti piracy ops @SpokespersonMoD”.
He also posted a picture which showed an Indian helicopter flying over a Chinese navy vessel.
The surprise omission of Indian Navy’s role in the operation comes as the Indian Navy in New Delhi said that the navies of the two countries worked in a well-coordinated operation to rescue the vessel.
The Indian Navy on Sunday said it sent its frontline warships, INS Mumbai and INS Tarkash, to coordinate with the Chinese navy. The two Indian ships were in the region as part of an overseas deployment.
The Indian Navy also said that the Chinese navy thanked it for its role in the operation.
“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,” Indian Navy spokesperson Capt D K Sharma said on Sunday.
China’s disinclination to acknowledge Indian Navy’s role came amid a strain in ties between the two countries over a range of issues including the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, China’s opposition to India’s Nuclear Suppliers Group membership and Beijing blocking India’s effort to declare Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as global terrorist by the United Nations.
China and India have been operating ships in the Gulf of Aden for several years.
In May 2011, China had acknowledged Indian Navy’s help in saving 24 Chinese sailors aboard Panama-flagged bulk carrier, Full City, from pirates. At that time, Chinese navy’s flotilla was on an escort duty in the Gulf of Aden -- 1,200 nautical miles away from the scene of the assault.