Guardians of the ocean come to the res­cue

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - 90TH - By ZHANG ZHIHAO

“This is the Chi­nese naval es­cort task force. Please call on Chan­nel 16 if you re­quire as­si­tance.”

That an­nounce­ment, in Chi­nese and English, is now fa­mil­iar to mer­chant ves­sels sail­ing through the Gulf of Aden and the wa­ters off the coast of So­ma­lia.

For the past eight years, when­ever a ship has ra­dioed an SOS, the Chi­nese naval es­cort task force has come to the res­cue.

In April, the guided-mis­sile frigate CNS Yulin of the 25 th Chi­nese naval es­cort task force re­ceived a mes­sage that pi­rates in the Gulf of Aden had hi­jacked the OS 35, a bulk car­rier from Tu­valu, an is­land na­tion in the Pa­cific Ocean. The Yulin im­me­di­ately sailed to the area, where 16 spe­cial forces per­son­nel boarded the ves­sel, and res­cued 19 sailors.

Es­cort du­ties be­gan on Dec 26, 2008, when the first Chi­nese fleet, con­sist­ing of two guided-mis­sile de­stroy­ers, the CNS Wuhan and the CNS Haikou, a sup­ply ship, two he­li­copters, and 800 per­son­nel, sailed from their home port of Sanya, Hainan prov­ince, en route to Africa.

Since then, China has sent 26 es­cort fleets to the re­gion. They have es­corted more than 6,400 ves­sels, half of which be­longed to other na­tions or the World Food Pro­gramme.

The Chi­nese fleet has also searched and de­terred more than 3,000 pi­rate ships and se­cured “100 per­cent safety” for both the task force and the ships they es­corted.

The task force has par­tic­i­pated in other mis­sions, such as the search and res­cue op­er­a­tion for Flight MH370, the Malaysia Air­lines jet that went miss­ing in 2014, the evac­u­a­tion of for­eign per­son­nel from Ye­men in 2015, and more re­cently, pro­tect­ing the sci­en­tific ship CNS Xiangyanghong 10 when it con­ducted re­search in the In­dian Ocean.

“Th­ese are not easy tasks, given that un­til re­cently the Chi­nese fleet was op­er­at­ing thou­sands of kilo­me­ters from home with no solid lo­gis­ti­cal sup­port,” said Ma­jor Gen­eral Ma Gang, a pro­fes­sor at the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army Na­tional De­fense Univer­sity.

In July last year, China opened its first over­seas lo­gis­tic sup­ply base in Dji­bouti, an African coun­try on the shores of the In­dian Ocean.

“The base will en­sure the Chi­nese navy’s ef­fec­tive­ness in fu­ture es­cort, peace­keep­ing and hu­man­i­tar­ian mis­sions in Africa and West Asia,” Ma said.

How­ever, the Gulf of Aden cov­ers about 530,000 square kilo­me­ters, and So­ma­lia has Africa’s sec­ond-long­est coast­line — more than 3,000 km — sec­ond only to Mada­gas­car.

Up to 95 per­cent of Euro­pean Union goods and 20 per­cent of global trade pass through the Gulf of Aden

every year, ac­cord­ing to data from the Mar­itime Se­cu­rity Cen­ter, part of the EU Naval Force.

“China has ac­tively par­tic­i­pated in es­cort mis­sions, ful­fill­ing its in­ter­na­tional obli­ga­tions as a re­spon­si­ble ma­jor power,” said Zhang Jun­she, a se­nior re­searcher at the Naval Mil­i­tary Stud­ies Re­search In­sti­tute of the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army.

“Th­ese mis­sions will en­hance the train­ing of Chi­nese Navy per­son­nel and their rep­u­ta­tion, as well as deep­en­ing co­op­er­a­tion with our naval coun­ter­parts from other coun­tries,” he said.

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