YALONG BAY NAVY BASE, Hainan - The navy today embarks on its first overseas military mission since 1949 with the vow to protect Chinese and foreign ships from pirates off Somalia's coast.
Rear Admiral Du Jingchen, chief commander of the mission, said two destroyers, a large supply vessel, and about 1,000 navy personnel would sail from the navy base near Sanya in Hainan province around 1:30 pm today. And they are prepared for "complicated and long-term missions" for at least three months.
"Since this is the navy's first overseas mission, we could encounter unforeseen situations. But we are prepared for them," Du said.
Speaking to Chinese journalists on board the Wuhan, one of the destroyers and the flagship of the mission, Du said the navy would assign a special force of 60 soldiers to escort ships that seek protection off Somalia's coast.
But, he said, the navy has no plans to take action against the pirates on land, and would not fire at them unless Chinese vessels, civilian or military, are attacked. "Instead, we will evict the pirates."
Ding He, 21, one of the youngest soldiers on the Wuhan, said he was very proud to be part of the mission.
"The pride is too strong it washes away the pain and rigors of training," said the suntanned Hebei native.
Like Ding, Haikou, the destroyer commissioned in October 2003, is also on its first overseas journey.
The two destroyers and the large supply vessel, all from the South China Sea Fleet, were docked along with three other vessels off the coast of Sanya yesterday. People could see them, painted in white and decorated with colorful flags, from a famous Sanya resort.
"Our confidence comes from our capability," Du said. The advanced equipment on board the ships reflect the strength of the Chinese navy. The soldiers have undergone training late in the evenings and early in the mornings because pirates often attack ships during those times.
Earlier, the Ministry of Transport said the navy would guard all Chinese ships, including those from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, which seek protection.
The navy, however, said it would protect foreign vessels, too, if necessary.
Pirates off the Somali coast have taken a heavy toll on the world shipping industry because one of the busiest commercial sea routes passes through the horn of Africa. Pirates have seized more than 40 vessels this year, and earned about $30 million as ransom.
Last week, the Foreign Ministry said about 20 percent of the 1,265 Chinese ships passing through the area have come under attack this year. And seven Chinese ships or crews have been hijacked.