April 6, 2012 3:46 pm

Chinese freighter hijacked off Iran coast

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A Chinese freighter has been hijacked off the coast of Iran, the Chinese embassy in Tehran said on Friday.

The incident is set to further heighten concerns in China about the security of its citizens and companies as they rapidly expand global trade and investment.

Pirates took control of the Xianghuamen, a cargo ship of the Nanjing Ocean Shipping Co, about 9.30am on Friday near the Iranian port of Chabahar in the Gulf of Oman, the embassy said in a statement on its website.

Huang Liming, an attaché at the embassy, said the embassy was in close contact with Iranian authorities and had asked Tehran to take necessary steps to recover the ship and the crew safely.

Mr Huang said the shipping company had informed the Chinese government about the hijacking, but he said he did not know how many were on board, where the ship came from and where it was headed, and what it was transporting.

“We have already triggered our emergency response system and will inform everyone as soon as information becomes available,” he said.

China has faced a series of security crises involving its nationals especially in Africa and the Middle East in recent years. The government has been blasted by Chinese citizens in the country’s vibrant social media in the past when they felt Beijing was not doing enough to ensure their safety in dangerous and hostile environments abroad.

Last year, Beijing sent 20 civilian aircraft, four military transport aircraft and a warship to evacuate more than 30,000 Chinese workers from Libya. Five Chinese oil workers were killed by insurgents in Sudan last October. Earlier this year, a group of Chinese road builders were taken hostage in Sudan.

The increased risk of violence in north Africa and the Middle East where uprisings triggered internal strife and civil war prompted Beijing to review the security of its nationals abroad earlier this year, urging its companies to be more careful.

But its maritime trade remains vulnerable. Chinese vessels have repeatedly been victims of hijacking in the past. A series of cases involving Somali pirates convinced Beijing to start participating in international anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden – since 2009, the Chinese navy has been sending rotating missions into the waters off Somalia.

China sources half of its oil imports from the Middle East. Beijing is the biggest buyer of Iranian crude and has usually accounted for about 20 per cent of Tehran’s crude exports. However, China bought 40 per cent less crude oil from Iran in February than in the same month last year.

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