BEIJING - After successfully carrying out its first escort mission, the Chinese Navy prepares to cover another 11 domestic merchant vessels planning to travel around Somalia this week.
"We will actively provide information and necessary rescue services for those merchant ships passing through the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters," said He Jianzhong, spokesman with Ministry of Transport (MOT).
A governmental spokesman said on Tuesday that the naval task force will protect a total of 15 Chinese merchant ships between Tuesday and Saturday.
Consisting of two destroyers and one supply ship, the naval fleet arrived in waters off Somali coast on Tuesday after a voyage of more than 4,400 nautical miles. It set sail on December 26.
Soon after its arrival, the fleet conducted its first escort service for four Chinese merchant vessels, including one from Hong Kong.
The ship's cargo, origins and destinations were not released.
Under command of the fleet's flagship DDG-169 Wuhuan destroyer, the four merchant vessels sailed in a line formation and passed through the warship's patrolling area.
Surging piracy off the Somali coast has increasingly threatened internationals shipping. A total of 1,265 Chinese merchant ships passed through the Gulf of Aden last year. Seven were attacked by pirates.
One Chinese fishing ship, Tian Yu 8, and its 18 crew members were hijacked on November 14, 2008. They are still being held by pirates.
The MOT announced Chinese merchant ships may ask for protection by applying to the China Shipowners' Association (CSA) and China Maritime Search and Rescue Center (CMSRC).
According to the commander of the Chinese Naval expedition, Real-Admiral Du Jingchen, the main task for the warships is to dispel pirates with their presence.
"We have started our escort mission and will conduct careful deployment and close contact with the vessels to secure their safety by strictly abiding by the UN resolutions and international laws," said Real-Admiral Du.
The fleet is carrying about 800 crew members including 70 soldiers from the Navy's special forces along with weapons such as missiles, canons and helicopters.
For the first phase of the escort mission, the fleet will patrol the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters for about three months, followed by possible replacement warships as needed.