PLA Navy takes initial lead in anti-piracy co-ordination

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 October, 2011, 12:00am


China is set to strengthen its role in anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden by taking control of a newly formed naval convoy co-ordination group from January 1 next year, senior naval officers have confirmed.

The PLA Navy will oversee the operation of warships from China, Russia, India and other countries that provide independent escort duties for merchant ships sailing the pirate-infested waters.

Captain Keith Blount, chief of staff of the European Union's naval forces (Eunavfor) in the region, said the new group would provide more efficient naval coverage in the area.

China will head the group for six months until India's takes the duty, Blount said on the sidelines of the three-day HansonWade Combating Piracy Week conference in London.

European naval officers said while alphabetical rotation of the leadership had put China in charge first, it was the right move because China has been pushing for better co-ordination of the independent navies.

The January 1 start date will give the navies time to better align their operations.

One naval officer said the proposal to better co-ordinate the system was made in June during a regular meeting. Convened every three months with the goal of organising anti-piracy efforts, the meeting brings together more than 50 nations and bodies comprising military forces and the shipping and maritime sectors. These bodies include Eunavfor, and the patrols operated by Nato and the Combined Maritime Forces, together with the International Maritime Organisation.

The officer said Russia and India quickly agreed to the proposal, but more talks followed before the plan was approved last month.

Donna Hopkins, the co-ordinator of counter piracy and maritime security at the United States Department of State, welcomed China's wider involvement in the planning of operations, saying that Beijing was acting responsibly.

Asked if she had concerns about the wider geopolitical intentions behind China's involvement in anti-piracy operations, Hopkins said: 'Personally, I don't, but other people do.' She said it was understandable Beijing would want to protect its main trade routes.

China has had three ships on a revolving three-month deployment around the Horn of Africa near the gulf for more than two years.