China to send warships to fight piracy off Somali coast
Last Updated: Thursday, December 18, 2008 | 9:28 AM ET Comments34Recommend26
China said Thursday it is preparing to send warships to the coast of Somalia to counter piracy, an advance that would be its first military operation in the area.
The ships will join the naval forces of several other countries in the troubled waters in the Gulf of Aden, where attacks by pirates on cargo ships have become a major problem over the past year.
"China is actively considering sending warships to participate in convoy actions in the Somali sea and Gulf of Aden. China is now actively preparing for this," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao on Thursday.
He did not elaborate on details of the mission, but said formal information would be released later.
The Global Times newspaper, published by the country's Communist party, quoted two military officials as saying the contingent would consist of two destroyers and a supply ship to the area.
The ships will depart from a Chinese naval base on Hainan island after Christmas, and will be sent on a three-month mission to the region, the paper reported.
Beijing welcomed stronger international cooperation in fighting piracy, said Liu.
His comments come a day after a Chinese cargo ship, the Zhenhua 4, was rescued by a Malaysian-led international naval force from nine armed pirates who had boarded the vessel.
Mission could provide navy with experience
The mission represents the first Chinese naval foray into far-flung waters. Most of the country's naval activity has been centred on coastal defence.
"Combating piracy is an opportunity for the Chinese to give their navy something it doesn't have — experience in operations thousands of kilometres from home," said the CBC's Anthony Germain.
"There's a growing feeling here that now is the time for a rising great economic power to also flex its military muscle instead of relying on other countries' navies to come to the rescue," he said from Shanghai.
China's participation comes two days after a unanimous UN Security Council vote to authorize nations to conduct land and air attacks on the increasingly brazen pirates in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
Citing data from the Kenya-based East Africa Seafarers Assistance Program, Liu said 300 ships were attacked by pirates last year in that area. More than 40 ships were hijacked in the first 11 months of this year.
During the same period, 1,265 Chinese ships have passed through the area — an average of three to four a day, he said. About 20 per cent of them have come under attack, Liu said.
This year, there have been seven cases of pirate attacks involving Chinese ships or crews, he said.