China is making preparations to deploy warships in the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast to fight rampant pirates, after a Chinese ship escaped pirate hijack in the region.
"We are making preparations and arrangements to deploy naval ships to the Gulf of Aden for escorting operations," the foreign ministry said on its website Thursday.
"We will make a formal announcement when we are ready," the ministry said, without giving any further details.
However, military sources said that it will be the first time for Chinese navy to carry out escorting missions outside Chinese waters, and this mission is in line with related resolutions of the United Nations on combating pirates off the Somali coast.
The United States, NATO and other countries have already sent naval forces to ply this area.
The Global Times newspaper, affiliated to the People's Daily, cited anonymous maritime officials as saying that China would send a fleet of two destroyers and a supply ship to the Gulf of Aden.
The ships would depart from Sanya on the southern island province of Hainan for a three-month escorting mission in the region, the paper said.
The announcement came a day after a Chinese cargo ship fought off nine pirates in the Gulf of Aden.
The 30 crew fought for four hours against the pirates armed with rocket launchers and heavy machine guns with the help of a multi-coalition force. No injuries or deaths were reported.
"We deeply appreciate the effective help offered by Malaysia and international organizations," Liu Jianchao, spokesman of the foreign ministry, told a press conference Thursday.
Around 1,000 Chinese commercial ships pass the troubled sea areas a year, sources said. And according to Liu, 20 percent of Chinese ships passing through the waters off the Somalian coast have been attacked by pirates from January to November this year.
Seven ships, either owned by China or carrying Chinese cargo and crew, had been hijacked by pirates in that period, Liu said, adding that one Chinese fishing boat along with 18 crew were still held by pirates.
About 40 ships carrying over 600 crew were hijacked by Somalia pirates off the Somali coast in the first 11 months this year, Liu said, citing the statistics of the Kenya-based Seafarers Assistance Program.
"China welcomes international cooperation in the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia, and support the efforts of other countries to send warships to the region to crack down on pirates in pursuit of international law and U.N. Security Council resolutions," he said.
More than 20 of those hijacked ships along with close to 300 crew were held by the pirates.
China's decision on Tuesday to send naval ships to the waters off the Gulf of Aden and Somali coast was welcomed by the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.
Somalian Foreign Minister Ali Ahmed Jama hailed China's participation on Tuesday, saying Somalia would continue to cooperate with China, and do its utmost to retrieve the Chinese vessel and rescue Chinese crew members taken hostage by pirates.
Netizens in China also backed the government's decision to send naval ships to the region.
An online survey conducted by the Global Times newspaper by Tuesday night showed that more than 82 percent of 17,198 people polled voted yes to sending a pirate-fighting fleet to Somalia as of Tuesday evening.
"We fully support the government's decision and hope the fleet could be deployed as soon as possible since China is a responsible country which should take part in multinational peacekeeping in the region," said a netizen in a posting on the newspaper's website.
(Xinhua News Agency December 18, 2008)