BEIJING, Dec 18 – China is preparing to send warships to fight rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia, the government said on Thursday, a day after one of its commercial vessels foiled an attack near the African state.
"We are preparing and making arrangements to send naval ships to the Gulf of Aden to protect the sea lanes there," foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told journalists.
"We will make a formal announcement when the time comes."
Liu’s comments come after the state-run Global Times newspaper, citing maritime officials, said China would send two destroyers and a supply ship to the Gulf of Aden to help the international crackdown on piracy there.
The fleet will depart from China’s south sea naval base on Hainan island after December 25 for a three-month tour of the Somali coast, the paper said.
The developments come after the crew of a Chinese cargo ship fought off pirates in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday with the help of a coalition of forces organised by the International Maritime Bureau.
Liu said that seven ships either owned by Chinese shipping companies, carrying Chinese crews or carrying cargo from China had been attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden during the first 11 months of the year.
China’s participation will be the first time in modern history that the nation’s navy has carried out a mission outside Chinese waters, according to Shen Shishun, an expert with the Chinese Institute of International Studies, a government think tank.
China’s participation comes after the UN Security Council, in a unanimous vote on Tuesday, gave nations battling armed and increasingly audacious pirates in the Gulf of Aden a one-year mandate to act inside the lawless country.
"China welcomes the international cooperation on cracking down on Somalia pirates," Liu said
Pirates have carried out more than 100 attacks in the key shipping lanes of the Gulf of Aden, located between the south of Yemen and the north of Somalia, and the Indian Ocean east of Somalia since the start of this year.
Last month, they captured the world’s attention when they hijacked the Saudi-owned super-tanker Sirius Star, carrying two million barrels of crude oil, and demanded a 25-million-dollar ransom for the ship and its crew.
It is one of about 17 ships, including a Chinese vessel, that have fallen into pirate hands.
The United States, Belgium, France, Greece, Liberia and South Korea have all indicated a willingness to send or have already sent warships to the region.
Such a mission from China’s navy would come nearly 600 years after the "Treasure Ships" of Admiral Zheng. He visited Africa during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when the Chinese navy ruled the known seas of the world, state press said.