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Naval mission nears Strait of Malacca
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08:11, December 29, 2008

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The Chinese Navy fleet that has joined the global mission to counter pirates off the Somali coast is expected to travel through the Strait of Malacca today after departing from the South China Sea.

Spirits have been high onboard since the fleet - comprising two advanced destroyers, one supply vessel, helicopters, 800 sailors and 70 special forces officers - drew closer to the southern end of China's maritime territory after a festive departure ceremony at noon on Friday.

Before the fleet left Chinese waters, the 870-member crew, clad in white uniforms, held a solemn oath-taking ceremony at a harbor in the Nansha Islands region.

The crew then changed to blue uniforms and resumed their routines, as the warships continued along the 4,400-nautical-mile journey to the east African coast.

Special forces officers onboard the destroyer Haikou also conducted their first helicopter drill from the ship's deck at 8 am yesterday. The elite Chinese combat forces told China Daily the drill will prepare them to land on suspicious and hijacked ships.

Although the vessels feature water-recycling systems, water supplies still remained tightly controlled. Sailors were not allowed to turn on taps to wash their bodies or uniforms until given orders.

Some, however, had developed other ways to clean up, such as collecting rainwater in buckets.

Onboard meals resembled home-cooked fare, featuring dumplings, meats and vegetables. The crew will enjoy seafood once a week.

Doctors had kept busy with several seasick soldiers and journalists.

Altogether, 14 doctors and nurses from three military hospitals provide routine medical care, including mental health services and surgeries.

Two women army nurses from the Guangdong military area joined the nearly 900 men onboard the three vessels.

The fleet will follow a W-shaped route through the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean.

It is expected to reach the Gulf of Aden near Somalia around Jan 6 to start its mission of protecting Chinese civilian ships in the region.

Source: China Daily



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