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China deploys new flotilla to combat piracy

THE Chinese navy dispatched a second anti-piracy flotilla yesterday morning as it rotated warships escorting merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden and other waters off the Somali coast.

The task force, comprising the destroyer DDG-167 Shenzhen and the frigate FFG-570 Huangshan, will relieve two destroyers. The supply ship Weishanhu, part of the first flotilla, will remain in the pirate-plagued region.

The two new ships left Guangdong Province's Zhanjiang, headquarters of the South Sea Fleet, at about 10am, carrying two helicopters, missiles and about 800 crew members, including a naval special forces unit.

The vessels will continue the People's Liberation Army's first combat deployment far beyond China's territorial waters, under the authorization of four United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The warships will conduct an escort mission lasting roughly three months after traveling 4,600 nautical miles over about six days through the Xisha and Nansha islands, the Singapore Strait, the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean.

The destroyers now in the region will return to China after the newly deployed ships arrive.

China sent two destroyers, the Wuhan and Haikou, and the supply ship on December 26 on an escort mission to protect Chinese merchant vessels as well as those from other parts of the world sailing through the region.

"The new deployment will be the start of the navy's continuous effort in rotation to ensure the merchant vessels' safety in the region within the validity of the UN authorization," Rear-Admiral Yao Zhilou said.

A UN Security Council resolution adopted on December 16 authorized countries to deploy military forces in the narrow Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast for 12 months.

"The Somali government's approval and the UN resolution are the most substantial foundation for the navy's move," said Wang Hanlin, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank.

"The rotation of warships sent to the region has also revealed the necessity of an aircraft carrier for China. It would be much easier for an aircraft carrier combat unit to safeguard merchant vessels in such a remote area."

China's navy does not have a carrier.

The DDG-167 Shenzhen, which entered service in 1999, carries anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, close-range weapons systems and an anti-submarine helicopter.

The FFG-570 Huangshan, designed and manufactured by a Chinese shipbuilder, boasts radar-hiding features such as a sloped superstructure that blends into the ship's hull, reduced surface equipment and radar-absorbing materials.

The frigate can also provide the flotilla with mid-range aerial defense capability.


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