THE CHAIN LOCKER
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Crew of XIANGHUAMEN wave after being freed - click photo to go to ChinaDaily story
Iran's anti-piracy forces have freed a second ship (Click on MV Eglantine in the Categories column to the right of the page for the story of the release of the first ship, about a week ago) and in the process have captured a long-sought pirate leader. This story from the very good gCaptain site covers the ground as well as anything I've been able to find: http://gcaptain.com/iranian-navy-frees-ship-somali/?44129  

The Chinese ship XIANGHUAMEN had been in transit to the Iranian port of Imam Khomeini and was taken by nine pirates about 45 miles off Bandar Jask in the Gulf of Oman, somewhat out of usual piracy waters. The crew shut down power and took refuge in a citadel, but were subsequently forced out and taken hostage. The pirates forced the Chief Engineer, Li Shengmeng, to restore power and told the Master, He Feng, to head for Somalia.


China's embassy officials in Iran asked that the necessary actions be taken to release the vessel and its crew. Two Iranian warships began to shadow the Chinese freighter, causing the pirates to line the ship's crew up on each side of the bridge and to threaten to harm them if the warships didn't depart. The Iranians refused. The pirates had told the crew to say there were 22 pirates, but another ship in the area, having listened to the radio traffic, entered the conversation and asked in Chinese - which the hijackers did not understand - for the actual number of pirates on board. "In this way we finally sent related information that helped the later rescue operations successfully to the outside world," said Chief Engineer Li.


Li told the pirates that he had to go to the engine room to check the equipment, and gathered four other sailors there to discuss evacuation. While there, he received a call from the Chief Mate, Chen Jian, who told him that the Iranian Navy had requested that the crew cut power and stand by for an offensive. When the Iranian warship began to exchange gunfire with the pirates, Li and the four sailors shut down power and jumped into the sea, swimming toward the Iranian warships. 

The pirates demanded that the remaining crew members restart the engine, but with Li and the others gone, this was impossible. After being beaten by the pirates for being unable to restart the engine, Captain He also jumped into the sea. Soon after this, the pirates threw their weapons into the sea and surrendered to the Iranian Navy.

Li Shengming was hailed as a hero in this article from the China Daily: http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-04/09/content_15005271.htm - and it also says that the crew were awarded $10,000 each by the ship's owner for "bravery against pirates." Well earned, I'd say.

This story from African Review tells of the capture of Mohamed Garad, leader of the pirates who took XIANGHUAMEN and an old thorn in the side of anti-piracy forces in the region: http://www.africareview.com/News/Most+wanted+Somali+pirate+seized/-/979180/1383504/-/14bpryj/-/index.html   He's described in the story as "an old, experienced hand and a role model in the piracy world," whose status among pirates was compared to "Carlos the Jackal" in the crime world. Garad has been involved in hundreds of hijack cases in the Horn of Africa region, so his capture is very good news.

Finally, here's a YouTube video of a news conference held by Iranian Admiral Habibollah Sayyari from PressTV, an Iranian outlet (this video is also featured on gCaptain) in which he states that Iran currently has 19 vessels and 11,000 men involved in anti-piracy operations:


Do you have any first-hand accounts of a passage through these waters? Please let us know about it in the Comments!