China may send ships to tackle Somali piracy

BEIJING, Dec 17 - China may send naval ships to the seas off Somalia to help the fight against piracy there, state media on Wednesday quoted a Vice Foreign Minister as saying at the United Nations.

"China is seriously considering sending naval ships to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the Somali coast for escorting operations in the near future," the official Xinhua news agency quoted He Yafei as saying.

He, speaking at a Security Council ministerial meeting, said that China welcomed global cooperation in the fight against Somali piracy, and supported efforts by other countries to send ships to the region, Xinhua reported.

Earlier this month a prominent Chinese military strategist, Major-General Jin Yinan, urged the government to send ships, in comments reflecting debate about combating piracy in a country which has generally confined its navy to waters near home.

Jin told a Chinese radio interviewer that "nobody should be shocked" if his government one day decided to send navy ships to deal with the pirates, whose recent victims have included ships from mainland China and Hong Kong.

Jin is the head of a strategy institute at China's National Defence University.

A surge in attacks at sea this year in the busy Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean off Somalia has pushed up insurance costs, brought the Somali gangs tens of millions of dollars in ransom and prompted foreign warships to the area.

Among the captured vessels are a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million of crude oil, the Sirius Star, and a Ukrainian cargo ship carrying some 30 Soviet-era tanks.

The victims have also included a Hong Kong-flagged ship with 25 crew aboard and a Chinese fishing boat reported seized off Kenya.

NATO ships began anti-piracy operations off the Somali coast in late October, but they have failed to stop the hijackings.


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