Chinese officials vowed Tuesday to make every effort to rescue the 25-man crew aboard a hijacked coal carrier, while the pirates reportedly threatened to start killing if any rescue operation was attempted.
Somali pirates took the Dexinhai on Monday morning in the Indian Ocean.
The latest seizure highlights what many believe to be an aggressive expansion of the pirates' reach as major world powers turn up the heat on such threats with military deployments.
"We are watching the situation closely, and will make every effort to rescue the crew and the hijacked ship," Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Tuesday.
The government invited the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau to designate battleships to help with the rescue following failed attempts to contact the carrier by phone and fax, according to China National Radio.
Chinese authorities declined to say whether a naval envoy, on an escort mission against piracy in the Gulf of Aden, would attempt a rescue.
Hassan, an associate of the gang, spoke to Reuters Tuesday by phone from the pirate stronghold of Haradheere and warned against endangering the crew's lives with a rescue operation.
"If they try that, we will execute the whole crew," Hassan was quoted as saying.
The Chinese government did not respond to the threat.
A poll by huanqiu.com Tuesday showed that 30.7 percent of Web users believed China should send more warships to patrol the seas around Somalia, while 41.6 percent suggested China should build overseas bases.
Speculation has swirled following the hijacking on whether the pirates have been forced to operate far out in the Indian Ocean, as foreign warships have been patrolling the Gulf of Aden, where the majority of pirate attacks have taken place.
"Pirates always hijack ships within 200-300 nautical miles off Somali waters, but this time the number is an extraordinary 700 nautical miles," said Yin Gang, a researcher with the Institute of West Asia and Africa at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The Dexinhai, en route from South Africa to India carrying coal, was 1,080 nautical miles from China's patrolling naval fleet when it was attacked 550 nautical miles northeast of the island nation of the Seychelles and 700 nautical miles off the east coast of Somalia.
Zhang Zuyue, secretary-general of the China Shipowners' Association, said that the Chinese military could exert pressure on the pirates by dispatching navy ships, but he warned that military power would be extremely dangerous for both crewmen aboard the hijacked ship and the warship crew.
His association also issued a notice Tuesday warning that ships en route from South Africa to Asia should speed through the waters south of Mauritius, as weather conditions in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean are suitable for pirates with small boats.
The captain of the ship, 53-year-old Shan Lianshou, is negotiating with the pirates, according to John Harbour, spokesman of the EU Naval Force.
Zhang said that the sailors were temporarily safe.
Somali pirates typically force the ships to land in Somalia before trying to negotiate a ransom with companies that own the carriers.
The pirates began frequently invading passing ships in June of last year.
Between January and November of 2008, 83 out of 1,265 Chinese vessels passing through the Gulf of Aden were attacked by Somali pirates, though most of them fled safely by fending off the pirates with water hoses and self-made weapons, according to the Ministry of Transport.
However, two Chinese ships, the Dajian and Tianyu No. 8, were separately seized by Somali pirates off the coast of Somalia and Kenya last year. It took the Chinese side three months to negotiate with the pirates to get the Tianyu and its crew back, and it cost $3.4 million to save the Dajian.
A press officer surnamed Sun of Qingdao Ocean Shipping, which owns the Dexinhai, said the route is a regular one the company uses to transport coal and ore.
Official statistics indicate that China owns a 5 to 10 percent market share of the international freight market.
According to non-governmental observer Ecoterra International, at least 179 attacks have been carried out by Somali pirates this year, and 52 of them were successful, AFP reported.
Deng Jingyin, Zhang Han and Liang Chen contributed to this story