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Crew members of Taiwan trawler Xu Fu 1 arrive in Beijing on Tuesday after their release by Somali pirates on July 17. Zhu Xingxin / China Daily
Fishermen recount their 19-month ordeal at the hands of Somali pirates
With his weather-beaten face creasing into smiles, 30-year-old fisherman Zhang Leilei said he felt "reborn" the moment he arrived in Beijing on Tuesday afternoon after more than 570 days at the mercy of Somali pirates.
Zhang was among 26 rescued crew members of the Xu Fu 1 trawler, a Taiwan ship with 13 fishermen from the Chinese mainland, one from Taiwan and 12 from Vietnam.
The boat was hijacked by Somali pirates in late December, 2010, off the Madagascar coast and forced to Somalia.
The fishermen told reporters they felt helpless and survived on meager rations, often less than a meal a day, during their 19-month captivity.
They were released and picked up by the navy last week.
Zhang was in no doubt as to what he would do once he got home. "I will kneel in front of my father and pay my respects. We haven't seen each other for around five years."
Zhang signed a contract with a local company to work as a sailor for a Taiwan company in July 2007 to earn more money to support his rural family.
Zhang Qian, 56, Zhang's mother, told China Daily, from her home in Ruzhou in Henan province, that she felt "the sky had collapsed" when she heard that her son had been kidnapped by pirates two years ago.
Her relief was obvious but so too was the concern and worry of the past two years.
She only received two phone calls from her son during his captivity.
"I fainted with the telephone holding in my hand when I heard that his nails had been pulled," she said, adding that the ringing phone over the past two years made her nervous as it could be bringing bad news.
After their rescue, the fishermen boarded the naval frigate Chang Zhou, one of several Chinese naval ships on regular anti-pirate patrol off Somalia.
Once on board, they were escorted to the port of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania for transfer on Saturday.
As a key force in the fight against piracy, China had overcome major hurdles to rescue the fishermen, and "implemented both the letter and the spirit of humanitarian law and met its international obligations during the escort mission", said Wang Teng, deputy director at the Center for Consular Assistance and Protection under the Foreign Ministry.
The fishermen underwent daily physical examinations and a 24-hour emergency medical response team was on standby.
Considering their ordeal, they were in goods shape but still weak, Wang said.
The Vietnamese fishermen were handed over to embassy officials on arrival on Saturday morning and the Taiwan crew member has also returned to Kaohsiung.
The Chinese embassy in Tanzania helped the fishermen to phone their families.
Most of the Chinese crew members came from Anhui and Henan provinces.
Looking to the future, fisherman Liu Renxiong, 33, said he could not rule out the possibility of another sea trip due to his financial circumstances.
"Our families have spent a lot of money over the last two years, and financial conditions are not good."
Liu also expressed his gratitude for the efforts made by the government and the ship owner for "not giving up on them".
Fight against pirates
Xu Fu 1 was just one of a number of vessels seized by Somali pirates.
From January to November, 2008, around 20 percent of Chinese merchant ships passing through the waters were attacked by pirates. A significant amount of China's oil imports from the Middle East passes through, or near, the Gulf of Aden.
Somali pirates can stay out at sea for long periods, with captured merchant vessels as mother ships, and have been using Yemen's remote island of Socotra as a refueling hub.
Small fishing boats, without fixed routes, are hard to trace, and captives from different regions or countries can slow mediation efforts, said Zhou Qing'an, an expert on public diplomacy with Tsinghua University in Beijing.
"Vessels can improve their chances of not being hijacked by upgrading security systems and by fishing in groups, rather than working alone," he said.
Wang, the deputy director, also suggested Chinese fishing boats stay away from dangerous waters.
Chinese naval ships have undertaken anti-piracy operations off Somalia since late 2008, and statistics show that the navy has escorted more than 4,700 ships from countries all over the world.
In early 2010, Beijing also agreed to join a multinational effort to protect shipping in the Gulf of Aden and nearby stretches of the Indian Ocean.
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(China Daily 07/25/2012 page1)