Three vessels comprising the 16th Escort Task Group of the Chinese Navy arrived in the Port of Cape Town on Tuesday morning, the last leg of a visit to eight African countries.
The 16th Escort Task Group (ETG) consists of the modern Type 054A missile frigate FFG-546 Yancheng, the Type 053H3 missile frigate FFG-527 Luoyang and the new Type 903 replenishment ship AOE-889 Taihu.
The Escort Task Group is visiting South Africa at the invitation of the South African Navy (SAN). With the SAN Band playing at the Chinese welcome ceremony complete with two dancing Chinese Dragons, Chinese Ambassador to South Africa, Mr HE Tian Xuejun and Rear-Admiral ‘Rusty’ Higgs, Chief of Naval Staff (SAN) welcomed the Commanding Officer of the Escort Task Group, Senior Captain Li Pengcheng (Deputy Chief of Staff of the North Sea Fleet of PLA Navy).
The 16th ETG set sail on November 30, 2013, from Qingdao and arrived in the Gulf of Aden on December 22 on a mission to protect and escort merchant ships in pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia. The Chinese PLA Navy has assigned 17 ETGs to perform these escort duties since December 2008, making an active contribution to the security of personnel and ships from China and abroad.
During the mission, FFG Yancheng went to the Mediterranean Sea on December 31 and successfully completed seven rounds of escort for vessels removing chemical weapons from Syria. On March 16 2014, FFG Yancheng returned to the Gulf of Aden and joined forces with FFG Luoyang and AOE Taihu to continue and complete the escort mission.
During the mission, the task group exchanged and collaborated with warships from, inter alia, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Spain. The ETG also conducted a joint exercise with Russian warship in the Mediterranean Sea and carried out a joint counter piracy exercise with EU Counter Piracy Task Force 465 (CTF 465) for the first time in the Gulf of Aden.
After completing the escort mission, the task group departed the Gulf of Aden and began its counter-clockwise visit to Africa. The schedule included visits to Tunisia, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola, Namibia and, finally, South Africa.
Although warships of the Chinese Navy have been to South Africa before, this was the first time that they had visited the seven other nations. The last occasion was in April 2011, when the 7th Escorting Flotilla paid a goodwill visit to Durban.
Whilst the ETG will not perform joint exercises with the SAN, there is a programme of cultural exchanges, with senior offices on both sides undertaking tours of each other’s ships and facilities.
Ambassador Tian Xuejun noted that South Africa is an important force, both in Africa and on the international stage, and that it is a country very friendly with China.
“China and South Africa have enjoyed very close exchanges and cooperation with South Africa in all areas including military exchanges,” Tian Xuejun said.
“The Chinese naval ETG’s visit to South Africa once again demonstrates the high-level political mutual trust between the two countries and vividly reflects the ever-growing friendly relationship and cooperation between our countries and militaries, as well as the ever-deepening friendship between our peoples.”
Besides the three vessels, the 16th Escort Task Group includes two Harbin Z-9 “Haitun” maritime helicopters and 50 special forces members. There are over 660 crew in the task group.
FFG Yancheng, commissioned in June 2012, acts as the command ship. The 135 metre long, 4 100 ton vessel is equipped with a 76 mm gun, HQ-16 anti-air missiles, YJ-83J anti-surface missiles and one Z-9 helicopter.
FFG Luoyang was commissioned in September 2005, and is equipped with a double-barrelled 100 mm gun, HHQ-7 anti-air missiles, YJ-83 anti-surface missiles and one Z-9 helicopter. The 179 metre long CNS Taihu was commissioned in May 2013.
The Escort Task Group will depart Cape Town on the afternoon of Friday June 20 for the return journey to China.