Chinese warships, armed with special forces, will protect their country's vessels and crews from pirate attacks off Somalia.
Chinese warships head to Gulf of Aden
BEIJING // Chinese warships on a mission to protect their country's vessels and crews from pirate attacks off Somalia will depart on Friday, armed with special forces, military officials said. The operation, China's first major naval mission abroad, will include destroyers Haikou and Wuhan as well as a large supply ship, said Rear Adm Xiao Xinnian, the deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army Navy. On board will be two helicopters and traditional weapons such as missiles and cannons. "In light of the peculiarity of this operation, we have also dispatched some special forces ... these special forces will also carry some light weapons that correspond with the specific features and needs of this operation," Adm Xiao said today. Though the purpose of the mission was to protect Chinese ships and crews, Beijing has called for stepped up cooperation in anti-piracy efforts. China announced it was sending warships to the area after the UN Security Council authorized nations to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases. "During the escort operation, Chinese ships are ready and willing to strengthen information and intelligence sharing as well as (conduct) humanitarian rescue operations with vessels of relevant countries according to the situation on the ground," said Senior Col Huang Xueping, spokesman of the ministry of national defense. A Communist Party newspaper has said the mission would initially last three months, but Col Huang did not give an exact length, saying the duration would depend on the UN mandate and conditions in the area. The ships will depart on Friday from the island province of Hainan in southern China. Piracy has taken an increasing toll on international shipping, especially in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest sea-lanes. Pirates have made an estimated US$30 million (about Dh110m) hijacking ships for ransom this year, seizing more than 40 vessels off Somalia's coastline. Last week, the foreign ministry said about 20 per cent of the 1,265 Chinese ships passing through the area had come under attack this year. Seven hijackings have involved Chinese ships or crews. One major issue for the Chinese navy ships is how they will resupply so far from home. Adm Xiao said the flotilla will mostly depend on the supply ship, but Beijing was in negotiations with other countries in the area to allow the ships to dock and resupply. Though Beijing has a huge global commercial maritime presence, the People's Liberation Army Navy has primarily focused on defending China's coast and, until now, limited operations abroad to port calls, goodwill visits and exercises with other navies. The Chinese fleet would join ships from the US, Denmark, Italy, Russia and other countries in patrolling the Gulf of Aden, which leads to the Suez Canal and is the quickest route from Asia to Europe and the Americas. *AP