Beijing: China today claimed full credit for rescuing a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates in the strategic Gulf of Aden, ignoring Indian Navys role in the operation.
While a Chinese navy statement last night omitted any reference to the Indian Navy in providing helicopter cover to the Chinese vessel whose special forces boarded the Tuvaluan ship under hijack, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the operation demonstrated "effectiveness of the Chinese naval force in the field of fighting against pirates".
When questioned about the absence of any mention of the Indian Navys role in the operation, Hua said Chinas Ministry of Defence should be approached for details.
"According to what we have learnt from the military on April 8 at 5 PM the 25th convoy of Chinese navy which was conducting the escort mission in the Gulf of Aden in Somali waters received reports from the UKMTO (United Kingdom Marine Trade Operation) about the hijack of Tuvalaun ship OS35," she said.
"The fleet vessel Yulin set out for the area immediately and rescue operation started early morning on April 9. Under the cover of helicopters, special force members of the navy boarded the ship and rescued 19 (Filipino) crew members on broad. Both the ship and the crew members are safe now," she told reporters.
Hua did not mention the assistance the Indian Navy provided to the Chinese navy in the operation.
Her comments came a day after the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) said in a statement that it rescued the ship.
When asked about the Chinese navys 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 with th tweet which showed an Indian helicopter flying over a Chinese navy vessel.
The surprise omission of the Indian Navys 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.
However, Hua, without detailing what cooperation she referred to, said, "We always remain positive towards international cooperation in combating pirates. We are ready for more cooperation in this regard."
Asked about the Indian Navys role, she said "I have already given what I have learnt to you. The Chinese convoy received a report from the UKMTO and conducted rescue operation. With regards to details I point you to the Chinese defence ministry."
The Indian Navy yesterday 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.
At the end of the operation, the Chinese navy thanked the Indian Navy 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 yesterday.
The reported coordination among the navies came amid a strain in ties between the two countries over a range of issues including the Dalai Lamas visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, Chinas opposition to Indias NSG membership and Beijing blocking Indias effort to declare JeM chief Masood Azhar as global terrorist by the UN.
China and India have been operating ships in the Gulf of Aden for several years.
In May 2011, China had acknowledged Indian Navys help in saving 24 Chinese sailors aboard Panama-flagged bulk carrier, Full City, from pirates. At that time, Chinese navys flotilla was on an escort duty in the Gulf of Aden - 1,200 nautical miles away from the scene of the assault.