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November 23, 2009

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Chinese sailors hailed as heroes

TWO Chinese sailors wounded in a battle against Somalia pirates 11 days ago have returned home to a hero's welcome in southern China's Guangdong Province.

Hong Xianwen and Yan Bo, of the China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co, were greeted by flowers and rousing applause when they alighted from an Egypt Air flight about 6pm on Saturday at the airport in the provincial capital of Guangzhou.

They were picked up by colleagues from COSCO (Hong Kong) Shipping Co Ltd and received a fast-track passage from entry and exit officers.

Hong and Yan are crew members of COSCO Hong Kong's "Fu Qiang" who fended off three pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden on November 12.

COSCO President Wei Jiafu said "Fu Qiang" was bound for Italy from Indonesia when it was chased and attacked by pirates in fast boats as it was heading to join the Chinese escort fleet in the gulf.

Crew members repelled three attacks by throwing gas and soft-drink bottles and dousing them with hoses.

A Chinese helicopter arrived and escorted "Fu Qiang" to safety. Hong and Yan suffered arm injuries.

Just a day before the attack, hijacked Chinese bulk carrier "De Xin Hai" appeared on a video off the Somalia port of Hobyo that was screened by China Central Television.

The ship appeared undamaged but the 25 crew members on the ship when it was hijacked last month are still missing.

The carrier, owned by Qingdao Ocean Shipping Company of COSCO, was hijacked in the Indian Ocean with cargo on its way from South Africa to India.

A top Chinese military official said at the time that freeing the ship would be a long, difficult process, and he did not rule out a military response.

A successful rescue of the crew was possible if countries worked together, said Major General Qian Lihua, director of the foreign affairs office of China's Ministry of Defense.


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