China begins landmark Somali piracy patrols

A Chinese naval convoy arrived Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden on a landmark mission to protect the country’s shipping from Somali pirates and escorted its first four vessels, state media reported.

The four ships escorted were Chinese merchant vessels, including one from Hong Kong, Xinhua news agency said in a dispatch filed from aboard the destroyer Wuhan.

The naval mission, deploying two destroyers and a supply ship, marks China‘s first potential combat mission beyond its territorial waters in centuries.

AFP

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, China's ... 
In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, China’s missile destroyer Wuhan leads Chinese ships sailing in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. The Chinese naval fleet arrived in the area on Tuesday to carry out the first escort mission against pirates, Xinhua said.(AP Photo/Xinhua, Qian Xiaohu)

The fleet was deployed in response to an escalation of pirate attacks on merchant ships, including Chinese vessels, plying the crucial shipping route linking Asia and Europe.

The missile-armed destroyers DDG-171 Haikou and DDG-169 Wuhan, and the Weishanhu supply ship, are among China’s most sophisticated and have all entered service this decade, Xinhua said previously.

They will operate alongside other international warships patrolling the area near the Gulf of Aden, part of the Suez Canal route.

The fleet will mainly protect Chinese vessels, including those from Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, but will also escort foreign ships passing through the area on request, Xinhua has said.

After three months the ships will be replaced by another flotilla, depending on UN Security Council decisions and the situation at the time, reports have said.

China has said its warships will investigate any suspected pirate vessels, and approach them and demand that they show their relevant documents and certificates.

Two helicopters accompanying the flotilla will be used during such tasks, military officials said earlier.

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