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Page last updated at 12:43 GMT, Thursday, 18 December 2008

Chinese ships will fight pirates

Dutch cargo ships in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday
Seven Chinese ships or crews have been attacked off Somalia this year

China has announced it is to send naval ships to fight rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia.

State media suggested the force could consist of two destroyers and a supply ship, although officials did not confirm the details of the deployment.

On Wednesday, Malaysian naval forces helped foil an attempt to hijack a Chinese ship by Somali pirates.

The latest operation is a first for Beijing, which has until now pursued a policy of military non-interference.

China's navy, along with the rest of its military, has not often strayed far from home.

But China's military spending has increased dramatically in recent years as its armed forces undergo a thorough modernisation.

This is its first active deployment beyond the Pacific, and naval analysts will be watching closely to see how the Chinese cope with the complex maintenance and re-supply problems of operating so far from home, the BBC's diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says.

UN resolution

Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told journalists that preparations to dispatch the vessels were under way.

He said further details would be provided when the operation was formally announced.

But the state-run Global Times newspaper said two destroyers and one supply ship would depart from a Chinese naval base on Hainan island after 25 December.

On Wednesday the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution allowing foreign military forces to pursue pirates on land in Somalia, though Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the time is not right for such a mission.

Pirates foiled

The Gulf of Aden is a region of key strategic importance for China whose economy depends heavily upon a secure supply of oil and raw materials from abroad, our correspondent says.

Four or five Chinese ships pass through the busy channel every day.

Seven Chinese ships or crews have been attacked this year, Mr Liu said.

On Wednesday, the Zhenhua 4 was attacked by Somali pirates.

The crew used water cannon and bottles to try to fight off their attackers, according to local media reports. But it was the intervention of Malaysian naval forces, with support from other countries, that thwarted the pirates.



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