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October 31, 2009

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New fleet of Chinese ships off to pirate seas

A NEW Chinese naval task force began sailing to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the coast of Somalia yesterday to protect merchant vessels against pirates attacks.

The new two-ship deployment comes as a Chinese coal vessel is still being held for ransom.

The latest group of warships is the fourth task force of its kind that China has sent to the region since the end of last year.

The missile frigates Ma'anshan and Wenzhou will relieve the Zhoushan and Xuzhou from the Chinese Navy's third flotilla, which has patrolled the area since June.

The new warships will join the Qiandaohu, a supply ship, that has been on duty in the region for about three months. The latest task force will comprise a crew of more than 700, including a special forces unit and two ship-borne helicopters.

It will take part in international humanitarian rescue missions, said Liu Xiaojiang, the Navy's political commissar.

25 crewmen held

The Chinese merchant vessel De Xin Hai, with 25 crew members on board, was hijacked by pirates about 1,000 sea miles from the patrol area of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean.

The crew members have been identified as Chinese citizens, and the Ministry of Transport is working on gaining the release of the ship.

It was not known whether the new naval task force will take part in a rescue mission for the De Xin Hai, but the two Chinese frigates currently patrolling the area have intensified the frequency of surveillance by their helicopters, skiffs and special forces for merchant vessels passing by.

China made an unprecedented move by sending three warships to the gulf on December 26 last year in its first overseas escort mission for merchant vessels.

Since then, Chinese warships have escorted hundreds of domestic and foreign vessels.


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