Navy lauded for foiling pirates
Updated: 2013-12-26 01:41
By PENG YINING (China Daily)
The missile destroyer Yancheng, from the 16th Chinese naval escort flotilla, accompanies a group of commercial vessels through Somalian waters in the Gulf of Aden. HU QUANFU / FOR CHINA DAILY
Commander-in-chief calls missions in gulf a success ahead of anniversary
In his 201-day stint fighting pirates in the Gulf of Aden in 2012, Cheng Wengang said the most intense mission was picking up 26 hostages who were released after being kidnapped for 19 months.
"I could see they were terrified from their eyes when we finally met at the beach on the Somali coast," said Cheng, a 34-year-old helicopter pilot on the 12th Chinese naval escort flotilla.
"They were skinny with scraggly beards and long, tousled hair. They were barefoot as the pirates took away their shoes in case they escaped."
Most of the hostages burst into tears after they boarded the Chinese frigate. Some of them kneeled down and kissed the deck, said Cheng.
"Two sailors from Vietnam said, 'Thank you, Chinese navy,' again and again in Chinese," Cheng said.
What Cheng described is just one accomplishment of the Chinese navy during its five-year escort mission in the Gulf of Aden.
Dec 26 is the fifth anniversary of the Chinese fleets' escort mission in the Gulf of Aden.
Since 2008, authorized by the United Nations, the navy of the People's Liberation Army has sent 16 escort flotillas, including 42 frigates and destroyers, to the gulf. More than 15,000 soldiers and officers have participated in the missions.
Wu Shengli, commander in chief of the PLA navy, described the missions as a success in a speech on Monday, saying that they fulfill China's responsibility as the world's second-largest economy.
It also ensures the security of the country's maritime strategic route, and drives the buildup and function of the navy, Wu said at a meeting that summarized the escort mission.
Somalia has seen rampant piracy that threatens the world's most busy shipping line, through which China carries its foreign trade.
Up to now, China's warships have successfully escorted 5,463 shipping vessels.
According to the navy, the Chinese naval escort flotillas have pushed back the pirates' attacks 32 times and rescued 42 merchant vessels. The fleets also have escorted 11 hijacked vessels to safe waters after they were released by pirates.
"After decades of development, the PLA navy now has the capability to provide protection in far seas," said Guo Fenghai, a professor at PLA National Defense University.
In addition to protecting Chinese ships, according to Guo, Chinese escort fleets have been assisting in safeguarding foreign and cargo ships carrying humanitarian goods from the United Nations World Food Programme and other international organizations.
Guo said the missions also give the PLA navy an opportunity to cooperate with the international community in combating piracy. The PLA, he said, could learn from navies of other countries.
"I have been on missions in the gulf many times and have worked with the Chinese navy closely," said Onno Boshouwers, a staff officer on a Turkish escort ship.
He said back in 2009, when piracy was at its peak, his fleet exchanged information with the Chinese squad and often visited each other's ship.
"I made a lot of friends in the Chinese navy by fighting pirates together, and I really appreciated the help from China," said Boshouwers.
China joined the international escort missions in 2008 because the piracy and violence were threatening the safety of Chinese ships and personnel passing through the region, according to Captain Hu Baoliang, who participated in the 2011 escort mission.
Hu recalled seeing more than 100 pirate speedboats surrounding a merchant ship.
"The speedboats were small and fast. They hunted together like a wolf pack," said Hu, who was in the escort ship's pilothouse when he heard the merchant ship's captain call for help through the radio.
"The captain called, 'Chinese navy! Chinese navy!'" said Hu. "His voice trembled."
Hu said the pirates hid their guns under fishing nets and pretended to be fishermen to get close to the merchant ship. Some tied rope ladders, which they used to climb aboard the ship, to a buoy and hid in the water.
"It was hard to strike the pirates directly," Hu said. "Even after they revealed their identity, they could've tossed the weapons into the water and pretended to be innocent."
There has been a falling number of reported incidents of piracy since more countries have joined in the fight against pirates, according to Ren Wenzhu, an engineering officer who joined missions in 2009, 2011 and 2013.