PLA Navy expands its horizons
After returning from China's first anti-piracy mission yesterday, fleet commander Rear Admiral Du Jingchen admitted he had more on his mind than battling hijackers during his four-month tour off the coast of Somalia.
The highly experienced officer led three ships from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy as part of a multinational taskforce formed to stop bandits targeting merchant ships on major trade routes.
But for Rear Admiral Du, the voyage also provided a rare opportunity to test the Chinese facilities, weapons and support functions to the full, as well as open the door for military-based diplomacy on the open sea.
Flagship destroyer Wuhan, part of Navy of the People's Liberation Army's first overseas combat fleet to the Gulf of Aden, during the mission. The fleet returned home to Sanya, its home port in Hainan province yesterday.(China Daily)
Comprising two advanced destroyers, Wuhan and Haikou, as well as the PLA Navy's largest supply ship, Du's fleet sailed from the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean and covered a total of almost 79,000 nautical miles - the longest continuous journey ever made by the Chinese Navy.
During its 123-day patrol off the coast of Africa, the warships escorted 212 merchant vessels, including 33 foreign ships, and regularly encountered pirate gangs, which mostly travel in double-engine speedboats fitted with machine guns, said officers.
China's second anti-piracy fleet, which included destroyer Shenzhen and frigate Huangshan, started its mission on April 2.
Reliable facilities, weapons and support materials are today a basic requirement for navies operating offshore. But these had once been unimaginable for China.
One officer, who asked to remain anonymous, told China Daily that conditions on PLA Navy ships used to be so bad that to "take a shower with clean water, the ships had to chase the rain clouds above the sea".
The fleet that returned yesterday, however, shows China now has a strong naval capability, said sailors as they approached the Sanya base.
Despite the serious threat they pose to merchant and civilian vessels, the pirates failed to trouble the PLA Navy.
"The pirates' speedboats sprint twice as fast as normal merchant vessels, so without a guiding fleet non-military ships are prone to get harassed," said commander Zhao Xiaogang aboard Haikou.
He said that on a number of occasions the pirates turned tail and fled as soon as they heard gunshots. "Even firecrackers could have chased them away," joked his crew.
But commander Du was not without his worries. "Piracy is still rampant as poverty remains the top issue for the country of Somalia. This is the biggest problem with the entire mission," he said.
There would be little surprise if it was his only regret, however, as the crew's performance in the use and maintenance of facilities, as well as its support systems, were deemed "almost perfect" by navy chiefs. Both destroyers remained in open water for the entire mission, while the supply vessel only docked once to reload.
"We have risen to the challenges. This mission proves we are a capable naval force," said Du, although he admitted there was always room for improvement on future missions.
The PLA Navy should learn from foreign forces' civilian-based information network, which has satellites monitoring the pirate-plagued region, said Du, and learn how other nations cater to sailors on long-term overseas missions.
It is important to keep them in a good mood with plenty of port leave, said officers, who revealed they were surprised by some of the relaxed methods they witnessed during visits to foreign warships.
Chinese soldiers are more strictly regulated and have rare opportunities to talk to their family members during a mission.
The PLA fleet exchanged visits with several foreign navies, including from the United States and Europe, during its mission. They also swapped about 300 intelligence emails on pirate information. "Only openness and cooperation can help China learn from more experienced navies," added Du.
The French Navy has been among the many forces worldwide to say they were looking forward to strengthening communication and cooperation with the PLA Navy in the future.
Sabine Rivayrol, a spokesman for its Ministry of Defence, said in Paris the nation's navy commanders would like to maintain a "mutual trust" with their Chinese counterparts.
France's light monitoring frigate F734 Vendemiaire was part of the historic multinational fleet review held in Qingdao, Shangdong province, last Thursday to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PLA Navy.
2009/5/6 14:22:09 阅读(