China’s navy will send three ships to the waters off Somalia this week to protect Chinese vessels and crews from pirate attacks, state media said.
Two destroyers and a supply ship will leave Hainan Province on Friday, Xinhua news agency said.
They will patrol the Gulf of Aden and areas off the Somali coast, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao (劉建超) said in a statement on Saturday.
“Their major task is to protect the safety of Chinese ships and crew on board as well as ships carrying humanitarian relief material for international organizations,” Liu said.
Piracy has taken an increasingly costly toll on international shipping, especially in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest sea lanes. Spurred by widespread poverty in their homeland, the pirates have made an estimated US$30 million hijacking ships for ransom this year, seizing more than 40 vessels off Somalia’s 3,000km coastline.
Last week, Liu said about 20 percent of the 1,265 Chinese ships passing through the area have come under attack so far this year.
Experts say most of the commercial ships are not armed, meaning crews have few options when attacked.
Though Beijing has a huge global commercial maritime presence, the People’s Liberation Army Navy has primarily focused on defending China’s coast and, until now, limited operations abroad.
The Chinese fleet would join ships from the US, Denmark, Italy, Russia and other countries in patrolling the Gulf of Aden, which leads to the Suez Canal and is the quickest route from Asia to Europe and the Americas.