- China - Piracy (maritime) - Somalia
REUTERS - China will send two navy destroyers and a support vessel to the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy off Somalia, the foreign ministry announced Saturday.
The Chinese warships will leave on December 26 to join the growing number of international warships patrolling off Somalia, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao was quoted as saying by the Xinhua state news agency.
Several Chinese ships have been among the dozens -- including a Saudi super-tanker and a Ukrainian freighter carrying tanks -- attacked by pirates in recent months.
"Their major task is to protect the safety of Chinese ships and crew on board as well as ships carrying humanitarian relief material for the international organisations, such as the United Nations' World Food Programme," Liu said.
China said Thursday it was preparing to send warships, one day after one of its commercial vessels foiled a pirate attack.
The UN Security Council this week gave nations battling armed pirates in the Gulf of Aden a one-year mandate to act inside lawless Somalia. Liu said that the Chinese navy deployment was in accordance with UN resolutions.
"Chinese naval vessels will strictly follow UN Security Council resolutions and international laws. They are willing to work with other countries and to take part in humanitarian relief tasks," he said.
The Defence Ministry, also quoted by Xinhua, added: "We will continue working with armed forces of other countries to improve cooperation in various fields including safeguarding the international maritime sea lanes."
The crew of a Chinese cargo ship fought off pirates in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday with the help of international forces in the region.
Liu said after that attack that seven ships owned by Chinese companies, carrying Chinese crew or carrying cargo from China had been hit by pirates in the Gulf of Aden in the first 11 months of 2008.
Pirates have carried out more than 100 attacks this year in the key shipping lanes south of Yemen and north of Somalia, and in the Indian Ocean east of Somalia.
Last month, they hijacked the Saudi super-tanker, the Sirius Star, which was carrying two million barrels of oil. They demanded a 25-million-dollar ransom for the ship and its crew.
It is one of about 17 ships, including a Chinese vessel, that have fallen into pirate hands.
An international flotilla of warships is in the region with the European Union launching Operation Atalanta, the 27-member bloc's first-ever joint naval mission. The United States, India and other nations also have vessels on pirate duty in the region.
The year-long EU operation involves 20 warships from Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden.
They will escort merchant ships delivering UN humanitarian aid for Somalis, and protect others sailing through the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden off east Africa, armed with a mandate to use force against the pirates.
Iran has also sent a warship to the Somalia coast to protect its vessels against pirates, state radio said on Saturday.
Iran said last month it was negotiating with pirates who seized a ship it had chartered but added that it was ready to use force to free the vessel.
China's plans to join the fight against Somali pirates could lead to a renewal of military exchanges between Beijing and Washington, Admiral Timothy Keating, head of the US Pacific Command, said Thursday.
He said the United States would "work closely" with the Chinese navy during the pirate missions.