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China starts Aden patrols, extends coverage to Taiwan and HK ships

China starts Aden patrols, extends coverage to Taiwan and HK ships

Hong Kong: The Chinese navy has begun guiding several mainland vessels - plus a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship - through the dangerous waters off Somalia from today in its historic expedition to join international efforts in fighting rampant piracy in the area. Beijing has offered to protect both Hong Kong and Taiwan ships passing through the area.

As many as two Hong Kong-registered ships a day pass through the treacherous trade channel and two have already fallen victim to Somali bandits although both episodes ended with no loss of life.

Three warships from China - the first time the country has deployed its military outside its immediate sphere of influence in recent times - are now operating in the Gulf of Aden.

The Hong Kong Marine Department yesterday said it has passed on seven applications from Hong Kong-flagged vessels to the mainland requesting protection off Somalia.

"The mainland has announced it dispatched a number of ships to Somali waters to escort vessels. [The protection of] Hong Kong-flagged vessels will be facilitated," Hong Kong Director of Marine Roger Tupper said.

Tupper said the department has advised more than 227 shipping companies whose vessels are registered in Hong Kong to notify them if they are entering the area and need assistance.

"We've received a number of applications, we'll send them to the mainland authorities and they will liaise directly with the ship on the spot," he said.

Tupper added the arrival of the mainland fleet was welcomed by Hong Kong ship owners.

On Friday, a Hong Kong-registered vessel was reportedly involved in a narrow escape from two pirate ships in the northern part of the Gulf of Aden after a chase.

In November, a Hong Kong-registered cargo vessel was released by pirates after its 25-member crew, which included an engineer from Hong Kong, spent two months in captivity. Another Hong Kong-registered vessel with no Hong Kong crew was captured by pirates last year.

More than 100 pirate attacks took place in the waters off the coast of Somalia last year. [6/1/09]