Chinese warships set sail for anti-piracy mission off Somalia

A ceremony is held before a Chinese naval fleet sets sail from a port in Sanya city of China's southernmost island province of Hainan on Dec. 26, 2008. The Chinese naval fleet including two destroyers and a supply ship from the South China Sea Fleet set off on Friday for waters off Somalia for an escort mission against piracy.(Xinhua/Zha Chunming)

TOKYO, Dec 26 (KUNA) - Chinese warships set sail on Friday from a port on the southern island Hainan for Somalian to take part in an escort mission against piracy, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Two destroyers and the supply ship will cruise for about 10 days to arrive in the Gulf of Aden, joining the multinational patrol in one of the world's busiest sea lanes where surging piracy endangers international shipping, Xinhua said.

This marks the first time Chinese warships have patrolled outside of Chinese waters since the formation of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

The fleet will carry about 800 crew members, including 70 soldiers from the Navy's special force. It's equipped with missiles, cannons and light weapons.

"All crew members have full confidence in their ability to fulfill the escort mission," the commander, Rear-Admiral Du Jingchen, told Xinhua at a send-off ceremony before the fleet departed.

The escort fleet will protect Chinese vessels and crews, including those from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, that seek protection when passing through the area, as well as foreign ships upon request.

The first phase of the mission will last for three months and the navy will send new ships to relieve the fleet at an appropriate time, depending on the situation and the UN Security Council decision, according to the report.

It will also help ships carrying humanitarian relief for international organizations such as the UN World Food Program.

The Defense Ministry officially announced the deployment on Tuesday, saying that China will observe UN resolutions and international laws in fulfilling its obligations.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao said 1,265 Chinese commercial vessels had passed through the Gulf of Aden so far this year and seven had been attacked. One fishing ship and 18 crew members were still being held by pirates.

Britain, France, Germany and Russia have already deployed destroyers and other naval vessels off Somalia to counter rampant piracy.(mk.ema)


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