Chinese warship escorts World Food Programme ship to Somalia

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The Chinese navy missile frigate Ma’anshan has, in a landmark move, completed the first port-to-port escort of a World Food Programme ship bound for Somalia.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Type 054 frigate escorted the World Food Programme (WFP) ship MV Dream to Berbera and Bosasso in Somalia, completing her mission on July 5.

The MV Dream was carrying a cargo of 5,900 tonnes of food-aid, including maize and oil, the European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) said in a statement.

Ma’anshan had earlier made history by becoming the first Chinese warship to escort a United Nations WFP vessel in Somalia. Between March 22 and 25 the missile frigate escorted the Amina from Berbera to Bosasso in Somalia.

With the threat of famine in the Horn of Africa following two years of drought, the delivery of food aid is essential and made possible with the continued presence of a number of warships and co-ordination between the different navies operating in the Indian Ocean is of paramount importance in order to increase the overall effectiveness of the deployed naval forces, the EU Navfor said.

The main mission of EU Navfor’s Operation Atalanta off the Somali coast is to escort WFP ships carrying humanitarian aid and ships of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), as well as protecting shipping from piracy. EU Navfor also monitors fishing activity off the coast of Somalia. Since the naval escort system began in November 2007, no ship loaded with WFP food heading to Somalia has been hijacked. Ninety percent of WFP food for Somalia arrives by sea.

As part of the coalition of warships from many nations currently deployed into the region to protect merchant shipping from piracy, the Ma’anshan is part of a three ship PLAN deployment designated Task Force 526. Ma’anshan, missile frigate Wenzhou and supply ship Qiandaohu form part of the eighth Chinese naval escort group, which has been in the Gulf of Aden for four months, having departed China on February 21.

It is being replaced by the ninth escort group, which left China earlier this month. The task force comprises the Type 052B destroyer Wuhan, and the Type 054A frigate Yulin, as well as the supply ship Qinghaihu. The ninth task force group carries a total of 878 seamen and officers on board, including dozens of Marines.

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.