The Chinese naval fleet joining the international anti-piracy campaign in Somali waters is likely to be replaced by new ships late April or early May, according to the deputy chief of staff of the People's Liberation Army Navy.
In an exclusive interview with China Daily, Major General Zhang Deshun disclosed for the first time that the current mission for the naval fleet lasts about four months and the fleet will be replaced near the end of its mission.
The current fleet left the coastal resort city of Sanya in Hainan province on Dec 26, 2008, and began patrolling and guiding Chinese and overseas civilian vessels since its arrival in Somali waters this January.
Citing the mission so far as a great success, the major general said the navy has prepared for a prolonged endeavor in which China joins forces with international naval forces to combat piracy.
"We feel this is not a short mission. The length of the mission depends on the Somali political situation and whether Somali pirates can be eventually kept away," he said.
The major general said substitute warships and personnel were ready to take charge, but he was not privileged to disclose either the number of warships replaced or the names of the new warships that would sail towards the Gulf of Aden next, just yet.
But he did say that some officers and soldiers with the current fleet would stay longer to ensure the "consistency and effectiveness of the mission".
"Some key members will be staying for the second phase," the general said, adding the navy has drawn up multiple plans for the replacement, to be carried out once approved.
The plans also include emergency cases, such as the failure of a warship and the impact of the monsoon due next month on the Indian Ocean.
Zhang said a welcome ceremony would be held at the naval base when the current fleet returns.
The current naval fleet includes flagship Wuhan, destroyer Haikou and supplier ship Weishanhu.
By March 7, the fleet has completed over 110 patrolling missions in Somali waters.
The officer said not a single vessel, including three foreign ships, were attacked under the Chinese navy's protection.
The general said the destroyer Haikou also escorted Tianyu 8, a fishing vessel from Tianjin released by Somali pirates on Feb 8.
The warship guided the vessel to safe water territory, providing food and medical aid to the 24 crew members aboard.
Source: China Daily