Page last updated at 07:24 GMT, Friday, 26 December 2008

China begins anti-piracy mission


China begins anti-piracy mission

Three Chinese naval ships have set sail for waters off Somalia to protect Chinese vessels from pirate attacks.

Two destroyers and a supply ship left the port of Sanya on Hainan island to join warships from other nations already patrolling the area.

It will be the Chinese navy's first operation beyond the Pacific.

There have been more than 100 pirate attacks this year off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

On Thursday, the German navy said it had foiled an attempt by pirates to hijack an Egyptian cargo vessel off Somalia.

Six Somali pirates were captured by sailors of the frigate Karlsruhe in the Gulf of Aden. However, the pirates were immediately released on the orders of the German government, officials told the BBC.

Japan's prime minister also indicated that his country was considering sending ships to help combat piracy.

"Each nation is taking measures. So, Japan should also take its own steps," Taro Aso said.

'International scourge'

The commander of China's South Sea Fleet, Rear Adm Du Jingchen, said his personnel were prepared for a complicated and long-term mission.


"Acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and coastal waters off Somalia have been increasingly rampant since the beginning of this year, posing a severe danger to the safety of ships and members from many countries, including China," China's Defence Ministry spokesman Huang Xueping said.

"Apart from this, pirates have also been threatening ships delivering humanitarian relief items to Somalia by international organisations. Piracy has become an international scourge."

The Chinese military says there have been seven attacks this year on Chinese vessels in the area.

It says its forces will board and inspect suspected pirate ships, try to rescue those who are attacked and mount a vigorous defence if they themselves come under attack.

However, defence ministry officials insist that China's doctrine of non-interference in other nations' affairs has not changed, the BBC's Chris Hogg in Beijing says.

The Chinese will work with other members of the international task force in the area.

China has no bases in the region so keeping its forces well supplied during what is expected to be a lengthy deployment is a major challenge, our correspondent adds.

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