By Luo Zheng, Zhu Hongliang and Hou Rong
BEIJING, July 11 (ChinaMil) -- Since 2008, Chinese PLA Navy has dispatched 26 escort taskforces, involving 83 vessels and 22,000 soldiers, to carry out escort missions at the Gulf of Aden and in waters off the Somali coast.
Meanwhile, the Chinese PLA Navy have also kept the proud record of "100% safety" for both the taskforces and the merchant ships they have escorted.
Chinese PLA Navy has escorted about 6,400 ships, over half of which are foreign ships or ships of the World Food Programme (WFP).
The Gulf of Aden is a critical point between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea, through which tens of thousands of merchant ships from around the world pass every year.
However, it is also one of the most dangerous sea areas in the world. According to statistics from the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO), over 30 ships were hijacked there in 2008 alone and more than 600 crew members were kidnapped.
Thus, in 2008, the UN passed four resolutions(No.1816, No.1838, No.1846 and No.1851) successively, calling on and authorizing the UN member states to perform escort missions at the Gulf of Aden and in waters off the Somali coast.
The Chinese PLA Navy felt obligated to help keep the important international sea route safe, because this does not just concern the ship security and economic development of China, but also concerns regional peace.
Consequently, the first Chinese naval escort taskforce comprising the guided-missile destroyers Wuhan(Hull 169) and Haikou(Hull 171) and the comprehensive supply ship Weishanhu(Hull 887) set sail from Sanya , south China's Hainan province, to carry out escort missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast on December 26, 2008.
It was the first time that China assigned military forces to protect national strategic interests overseas, the first time the Chinese military organized maritime forces to perform international humanitarian obligations abroad, and the first time the PLA Navy carried out the task of protecting the security of an important sea route in the far sea.
When Chinese naval escort taskforce arrived in the designated waters eleven days later, it immediately organized the first escort mission. From that day on, more foreign merchant ships sought for the protection from the Chinese PLA Navy.
Greek merchant ship SIKINOS and Panamanian merchant ship Neptune would rather wait two or three days for Chinese military vessels' escort, many foreign merchant ships sailed from the International Recommended Transit Corridor and applied to join the Chinese naval escort taskforce, and those that didn't apply in time just followed Chinese naval vessels.
So far, the PLA Navy has escorted about 6,400 ships, over half of which are foreign ships or ships of the World Food Programme (WFP).
In the past more than eight years, the Chinese naval escort taskforce has received general commendations from the international community, and the IMO granted the Chinese escort taskforce the "Special Award for Shipping and Human Services" .
Chinese naval escort taskforces have saved, escorted and helped more than 60 Chinese and foreign ships in peril and checked and drove away about 3,000 suspected pirate ships.
"This is the Chinese naval escort taskforce. Please call me at Channel 16 if you need help." This announcement aired in Chinese and English is familiar to Chinese and foreign merchant ships sailing through the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast.
This announcement has been aired for more than eight years. Whenever a merchant ship, Chinese or foreign, called for help at the Gulf of Aden, the Chinese naval escort taskforce always went to its rescue immediately.
In January 2009, the first Chinese naval escort taskforce received an SOS from the Greek merchant ship ELENIG, and immediately deployed a helicopter carrying special operations soldiers to rescue. It was the first time that the Chinese naval escort taskforce helped a foreign merchant ship out of dilemma.
On March 20, 2010, over 130 suspicious speed boats sailed toward Chinese merchant ship Zhenhua 9. The comprehensive supply ship Weishanhu of the 5th Chinese naval escort taskforce quickly adjusted its position to protect Zhenhua 9. The warning signal flare didn't take any effect, then, the commander ordered a round of heavy machine gun firing for warning, and the speed boats quickly dispersed.
In April 2017, the guided-missile frigate Yulin(Hull 569) of the 25th Chinese naval escort taskforce received a message that the Tuvalu merchant ship OS35 was hijacked by pirates in waters northwest of the Socotra Island of the Gulf of Aden. The frigate Yulin sailed toward the concerned sea areas at high speed, and 16 special operations soldiers boarded the OS35 and saved 19 trapped crew members.
In the past eight-plus years, the Chinese naval escort taskforce has saved, escorted and helped more than 60 Chinese and foreign ships, and checked and driven away about 3,000 suspected pirate ships, dealing with emergencies almost every single day.
The Chinese PLA Navy, which is a powerful deterrent for pirates at the Gulf of Aden, is called a "reliable protector" by merchant ships of all countries and has won the respect of their foreign peers.
The support ship HDMS Absalon(L16) of the Royal Danish Navy(RDN) once contacted the Chinese escort taskforce proactively. "We have performed duties here for six or seven months, but haven't had the opportunity to pay respect to the Chinese PLA Navy. We request to approach you from the stern, and will have six sailors salute your ships."
The Chinese naval escort taskforce successfully accomplished tasks such as the escort of the sea transport of chemical weapons from Syria, search and rescue of the missing plane of Malaysia Airlines, and personnel evacuation from Yemen.
In recent years, providing more public security products and shouldering more responsibilities and obligations are the global expectation for Chinese military and the solemn commitment made by the Chinese military to the international community.
While escorting merchant ships of various countries, the Chinese naval escort taskforce has actively undertaken more responsibilities and acted bravely at critical junctures over and over.
In December 2013, the guided-missile frigate Yancheng(Hull 546) of the 16th Chinese naval escort taskforce set sail from the Port of Jeddah in Saudi Arabia toward the Mediterranean Sea to participate in the escort of the sea transport of chemical weapons from Syria.
"The participation of Chinese navy demonstrated China's firm resolve to safeguard regional security and is highly commendable," said Sigrid Kaag, special coordinator of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW)-UN Joint Mission.
In March 2014, the Flight 370 of Malaysian Airlines went missing on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and the 17th Chinese naval escort taskforce sailed about 3,500 nautical miles at high speed to join the search and rescue mission.
In December 2014, Male, a city in Maldives, had a freshwater crisis, and the salvage lifting vessel Changxingdao(Hull 861) of Chinese PLA Navy that was performing an escort task in the Indian Ocean changed course and sent more than 600 tons freshwater to Male.
Ahmed Nihan, the majority leader in the People's Assembly of Maldives, boarded the ship and thanked the Chinese naval escort taskforce. "The people of Maldives will never forget China's timely assistance at such a critical moment."
From March 29 to April 7, 2015, the Chinese guided-missile frigates Linyi(Hull 547) and Weifang(Hull 550) and the comprehensive supply ship Weishanhu(Hull 887) of the 19th Chinese naval escort taskforce evacuated 621 Chinese citizens and 276 foreigners of 15 countries from the war-inflicted Yemen.
"A few days ago I was facing gunfire and death, but now I'm standing on the land of my own country. You cannot imagine how grateful I am for China," said Glen Edward, a Ski Lankan expatriate who came back to Sri Lanka from Yemen.
Since the Chinese PLA Navy began to carry out escort missions over eight years ago, it has made great contributions to ensuring the security of important international trade routes and safeguarding world peace and stability.
More importantly, the Chinese naval escort taskforces that have worked diligently and successfully at the Gulf of Aden have made people of all countries deeply feel the capability and responsibility of the Chinese military.