ON BOARD HAIKOU - The Chinese navy joined its counterparts from other countries to fight Somali pirates and successfully escorted the first fleet of ships through the Gulf of Aden Tuesday.
Two navy destroyers and a large supply vessel escorted four Chinese merchant ships, one of which was from the Hong Kong special administrative region, off the coast of Somalia.
About 30 ships from the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong have sought the navy's help to sail past the horn of Africa, where Somali pirates have created terror, especially in the past year.
The three navy ships entered the waters off Somalia around 1 am yesterday after having set sail from Sanya, Hainan province, on Dec 26. The UN Security Council and Somalia's transitional government both have approved of China's mission: to primarily escort Chinese merchant ships off Somalia's coast.
Yesterday's escort mission started at 11 am. The destroyer and flagship, the Wuhan, led the fleet, with another destroyer, the Haikou, making up the rear. The ships maintained a distance of 1 nautical mile during the 550-nautical-mile escort journey.
Liu Jianzhong, political commissar of the Haikou, told China Daily that the navy fleet would fulfill its responsibility of safeguarding China's civilian vessels.
Mission commander, Rear Admiral Du Jingchen, said: "We will earnestly follow UN resolutions and relevant international laws strengthen coordination and keep a close watch to ensure the security of the vessels and crew being escorted."
The UN Security Council adopted four resolutions toward the end of last year, calling on all countries and regions to help patrol the Gulf of Aden and the eastern part of Somalia's coast to thwart piracy in one of the world's busiest shipping channels.
In the latest incident, a Sierra Leone cargo ship, with 32 Chinese on board, threw off the pursuit of four pirate boats in the Gulf of Aden on Monday, the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center said.
The ship carrying more than 10,000 tons of silicate and oil-drilling equipment from Singapore to Djibouti, ran into the pirates around 3:50 pm.
The Ministry of Transport contacted the International Maritime Bureau immediately to seek help from nearby warships. The cargo ship was found secure around 4:20 pm.
The ministries of agriculture and foreign affairs have warned Chinese civilian ships not to sail close to Somalia's coast.
The Chinese naval fleet's commanding center said it had divided the waters into seven patrolling regions, spanning 550 nautical miles.
Twenty Chinese mainland and six Hong Kong vessels likely to pass through the waters between Jan 6 and 10 approached the navy yesterday to seek escort service in the Somali waters, the Ministry of Transport said.
The ministry has begun receiving applications from ships planning to sail through the region after Jan 10, too, a water transport department official said.
The government values the safety of overseas Chinese, and the navy fleet will also protect ships from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a regular press conference yesterday.
A spokesman for Hong Kong Marine Department said the agency will hand over escort applications from Hong Kong-flag vessels to the mainland authority. It has also informed 227 Hong Kong shipping companies about the naval fleet arrangement.
The Hong Kong Ship Owners Association said about 20 Hong Kong-flag vessels pass through the Gulf of Aden every month.
Gilbert Feng, assistant director of the association, said escort applications for ships sailing to the Gulf of Aden should be submitted to the Marine Department three to seven days before they reach the gulf.
Applications should include the name of the ship, the name of the owner, the expected date of arrival, a description of the cargo and the number of people aboard.
Taiwan shipping companies can apply to the Taiwan-based Straits Exchange Foundation, which handles Taiwan-related affairs, for the navy's escort service.