Chinese Navy sends anti-piracy fleet to Gulf of Aden

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A Chinese Navy relief task force has left for the Gulf of Aden to escort ships off Somalia’s pirate-infested waters. The Chinese Ministry of Transport says the ninth rotation of its standing antipiracy patrol left Zhanjiang port in southern China’s Guangdong Province on Saturday.

The task force comprises the Type 052B destroyer Wuhan, and the Type 054A frigate Yulin, as well as the supply ship Qinghaihu. It will replace the eighth task group sent to guard against pirates, according to a statement on the ministry’s website. The ninth task force group carries a total of 878 seamen and officers on board, including dozens of Marines.

The stealthy Wuhan missile destroyer is armed with the Russian-made 9M38 Buk-M1-2 (SA-N-12 Grizzly) air defence missile system, four quad YJ-38 anti-ship cruise missile launchers, a 100 mm gun, two 30 mm Type 730 close in weapons systems, two triple 324 mm Yu-7 torpedo tubes and two 18 barrel Type 75 240 mm antisubmarine rocket launchers. It also carriers a Kamov Ka-28 helicopter.

The Yulin, on the other hand, is armed with HQ-16 surface to air missiles, HN-2 land attack cruise missiles, C-803 anti-ship cruise missiles, a 76 mm gun, Type 730 30 mm close in weapons systems and 324 mm torpedoes. The vessel can carry a Harbin Z-9C or Kamov Ka-28 helicopter.

The eighth Chinese naval escort group, which included the missile frigates Ma’anshan and Wenzhou, has been in the Gulf of Aden for four months, having departed China on February 21.

The Wuhan and Yulin will arrive in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somali after they participate in the Brunei Darussalam International Defence Exhibition (BRIDEX 2011) between July 6 and 9, according to the statement.

China sent its first convoy fleet to the Gulf of Aden in December 2008. To date, Chinese navy fleets have escorted 3 968 ships from countries all over the world and rescued 40 ships attacked by pirates.

Piracy is a big problem in the Gulf of Aden as Somali pirates prey on ships sailing in the waters off the lawless horn of Africa country, raking in millions of dollars in ransoms and driving up shipping costs. Maritime piracy costs the global economy US$12 billion a year according to researchers.

As of June 13 pirates have hijacked 26 vessels out of 243 attempts this year. Somali pirates have been responsible for 21 of those successful hijackings and are currently holding 23 vessels and 439 hostages, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

One of the most recent attempted attacks came on Saturday. AP reported that suspected pirates were seen approaching a 17 000 ton South Korean commercial vessel, prompting a South Korean destroyer in the vicinity to dispatch a helicopter. The aircraft fired flares at the pirates, who then turned around and disappeared off the merchant ship’s radar screen.

Since 2006, nine South Korean ships have been hijacked near the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. All of them were freed. Since 2009, South Korea has deployed a destroyer with some 300 troops in the Gulf of Aden to patrol pirate-infested waters off the African nation under the multinational campaign.