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Navy sets sail for anti-piracy mission off Somalia
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The Chinese naval fleet set sail at 1:50 p.m. on Friday from a port in the southernmost island province of Hainan for Somalia. The ships will take part in an escort mission against piracy.

Photo taken on Dec. 25, 2008 shows the Chinese Navy's supply ship Weishanhu in Sanya, capital of South China's Hainan Province. The Chinese Navy's three-ship fleet awaiting sail to waters off Somalia has finished its preparations for the overseas deployment, the fleet commander said Thursday.[Xinhua Photo]

The warships of the People's Liberation Army Navy, decorated by colored ribbons and flowers, were unmoored at the military port by crew members in white naval uniforms who saluted the crowds who saw them off.

Two destroyers, DDG-169 Wuhan and DDG-171 Haikou, and the supply ship Weishanhu from the South Sea Fleet will cruise for about 10 days to arrive in the Gulf of Aden, joining the multinational patrol in one of the world's busiest sea lanes where surging piracy endangers international shipping.

"All crew members have full confidence in their ability to fulfill the escort mission," the commander, Rear-Adm. Du Jingchen, told Xinhua at a send-off ceremony before the fleet departed.

The fleet has many experienced crew members who have successfully carried out other overseas mission. The current mission might, however, be a long one that poses unforeseeable challenges, said Du, who is chief of staff of the Navy's South China Sea Fleet.

The fleet will protect Chinese vessels and crews, including those from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, which seek protection when passing through the area, as well as foreign ships on request.

The first phase of the mission will last for three months and the Navy will send new ships to relieve the fleet at an appropriate time, depending on the situation and the UN Security Council.

It will also help ships carrying humanitarian relief for international organizations such as the UN World Food Program. The fleet will not charge escort service or protection fees to ships, whether foreign or domestic.

The fleet will be ready to receive protection appeals on Jan. 6.

Soldiers of Chinese navy special force carry out an anti pirate drill on the deck of DDG-171 Haikou destroyer in Sanya, capital of South China's Hainan Province, on Dec. 25, 2008.[Xinhua Photo]

"We are expected to encounter conflicts where we might have to fire on pirates in these waters, but our primary target is not striking them but dispersing them," said Du, speaking on board the destroyer Wuhan, flagship of the fleet.

He said the fleet has not been given specific instructions about the Chinese fishing vessel Tian Yu 8, which is still held by pirates, since the government has not given up negotiating with the pirates.

The Defense Ministry officially announced the deployment on Tuesday, saying that China will observe UN resolutions and international laws in fulfilling its obligations.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said 1,265 Chinese commercial vessels had passed through the Gulf so far this year and seven had been attacked. One fishing ship and 18 crew members were still being held by pirates.

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