The 40th escort fleet of the People's Liberation Army Navy set out on Saturday from a naval port in Zhanjiang, Guangdong province, to protect civilian ships in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia.
The fleet has three vessels－the CNS Hohhot, CNS Yueyang and CNS Luomahu－carrying more than 700 officers, sailors and special force soldiers, according to a statement from the PLA Navy.
The Hohhot is a guided missile destroyer, of the Type 052D class, the second most powerful type of destroyer in the PLA Navy. The Yueyang is a Type 054A guided missile frigate, and the Luomahu is a Type 903A supply ship. They are part of the South Sea Fleet.
Before setting sail on Saturday, the escort fleet conducted multiple live-fire, counterterrorism and anti-piracy exercises to verify the ships' equipment and improve crew members' skills for long-distance operations, the statement said.
The Gulf of Aden waterway is part of the important Suez Canal shipping route between the Mediterranean and the Arabian seas through which many thousands of ships cross each year. In the late 2000s, the gulf evolved into a hub of pirate activity, substantially disrupting global maritime trade.
The Chinese government sent a task force to escort ships in the Gulf of Aden at the end of 2008, after a year in which more than 250 Chinese civilian ships, mostly cargo vessels and chemical tankers, were attacked or hijacked and about 50 Chinese seafarers were taken hostage by Somali pirates.
On Dec 26, 2008, the PLA Navy's first escort fleet－the missile destroyers CNS Wuhan and CNS Haikou, and the supply ship CNS Weishanhu－set sail from Sanya in Hainan province. The fleet escorted more than 210 ships during its four-month patrol.