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China to deploy ships off Somalia

Chinese fishing vessel hijacked off Somali coast (17 November 2008)
World leaders have called for more action to tackle piracy

China will send two navy destroyers and a supply vessel to the Gulf of Aden to protect merchant ships from attacks by Somali pirates, state media have said.

Chinese defence ministry spokesman Hu Changming told the Xinhua news agency that the three ships would set sail from the port of Sanya on 26 December.

Several countries have sent forces to combat the pirates, who have attacked more than 100 ships this year.

Among those still held is a Saudi oil tanker and a Ukrainian ship with tanks.

They are among 15 vessels the pirates hold for ransom.

Co-operation

The three Chinese ships, part of the country's South Sea Fleet, will leave Sanya on Friday for the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia, Mr Hu said.

Their main mission would be to protect the safety of Chinese vessels and their crews in the region, as well as protecting vessels delivering humanitarian aid international organisations, he added.

The defence ministry spokesman said the ships would abide strictly to the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and international law, and would be willing to co-operate with other convoy protection ships from concerned countries.

They will also participate in humanitarian assistance missions.

At a news conference on Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said 20% of Chinese ships passing through the region between January and November this year had been attacked by Somali pirates.

Correspondents say the deployment will be the first of its kind for a country that has traditionally followed a doctrine of non-interference in other nations' affairs.

But world leaders have called for greater action to deal with the problem and last week, the UN approved a resolution allowing foreign troops to pursue pirates on land in Somalia.

The Chinese taskforce will join warships from the EU, US, India, Russia, Malaysia and others which are already patrolling in the area.

Earlier, an Iranian warship began patrolling in the gulf, where two Iranian vessels have been hijacked recently, state radio reported.

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