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Chinese naval fleet carries out first escort mission off Somalia

ABOARD DESTROYER WUHAN, Jan. 6 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese naval fleet arrived Tuesday in the waters of the Gulf of Aden off Somalia to carry out the first escort mission against pirates.

Four Chinese merchant ships, including one from China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, were escorted by the fleet.

Rear-Admiral Du Jingchen, commander of the force, said the escort mission has started and "we would strictly observe UN resolutions and relevant international laws to fulfill our obligations."

Du said the task force will carry out careful deployment, enhance coordination and keep close watch to ensure the safety of the vessels and crew being protected.

The fleet, two destroyers and one supply ship, left a naval base on China's Hainan island last Friday under authorization from both the United Nations Security Council and Somalia's transitional government to primarily escort Chinese merchant ships.

The fleet includes about 800 crew members, including 70 soldiers from the Navy's special force, and is equipped with missiles, cannons and light weapons.

The UN Security Council adopted four resolutions in 2008 calling on all countries and regions to help patrol the gulf and waters off Somalia, where increasing piracy has endangered international shipping in one of the world's busiest sea lanes.

The latest resolution authorized countries to take all necessary measures in Somalia, including in its airspace, to stop the rampant piracy.

The London-based International Maritime Bureau said more than 100 vessels had been attacked in the gulf in 2008 and 14 ships are currently being held for ransom, including Saudi supertanker Sirius Star and the Faina, a Ukrainian cargo vessel carrying 32 tanks.

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