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China sends third naval flotilla for escort mission in waters off Somali

ZHOUSHAN, Zhejiang Province, July 16 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese flotilla departed Thursday to escort merchant vessels and to protect them from pirates in the Gulf of Aden, the third task force that the country has deployed to the region since the end of last year.

Two frigates and a supply ship with East Sea Fleet of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy left a naval base in Zhoushan Islands of east China's Zhejiang Province to relieve the second flotilla, which has cruised the waters off the Somali coast for more than three months.

The second flotilla, DDG-167 Shenzhen and FFG-570 Huangshan, will be replaced by radar-evading hulled FFG-529 Zhoushan and FFG-530 Xuzhou, which carry two helicopters and a special forces unit.

The supply ship, Qiandaohu, will replace the first flotilla's supply ship, Weishanhu, which has been on duty in the region since the beginning of the year.

PLA Navy Commander Admiral Wu Shengli said in seeing off the new flotilla that piracy in the Gulf of Aden and waters off the coast of Somalia was still rampant.

"The new flotilla may face complicated situations and atrocious weather conditions in the region," said Admiral Wu.

The flotilla's all 800 crew members had vowed to fulfil the mission as a gift for the country's 60th founding anniversary on Oct. 1, he said.

China made an unprecedented move by sending three warships to the Gulf on Dec. 26 last year in the first overseas escort mission for merchant vessels.

Chinese warships have escorted hundreds of domestic and foreign vessels since the first flotilla arrived in the region.

In the latest mission on Tuesday, FFG-570 Huangshan saved Liberia-registered oil tanker Elephant and Malta-registered vessel Polyhronis from pirates, who attacked with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

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