Hero's welcome for pirate patrol warships

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 May, 2012, 12:00am


Two mainland warships that escorted Hong Kong vessels through dangerous waters off Somalia played host to more than a thousand visitors at Stonecutters Island yesterday.

The missile destroyer Haikou and missile frigate Yuncheng, which have escorted 34 ships from Hong Kong in the past four months, will be in the city for five days and open to the public for three days. This is the PLA Navy's fourth port call in Hong Kong in the 15 years since the handover.

Members of the public snapped up the 6,000 tickets to visit the vessels in less than an hour on Thursday.

The warships, which belong to naval escort task force 171, carry some of the most advanced missiles and cannons in the Chinese navy.

They have conducted 40 escort missions since November in the Gulf of Aden, guarding 240 Chinese and foreign ships, including the 34 from Hong Kong.

The task force also saved a foreign ship from a pirate attack. 'These are the top ships in the navy. They have comparatively stronger capability to fight attacks from the air, sea and surface,' Rear Admiral Li Shihong said after taking Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen on board for a visit. Li, a task force commander and deputy chief of staff of the South China Sea Fleet, said the navy had no plans to set up bases in other countries.

The Somalia operation was a collaborative effort in which several countries shared intelligence, he said. Most of the time the warships sent warning signals to the pirates when they spotted them, he said.

Haikou displaces more than 6,000 tonnes of water and carries 48 missiles.

It has an anti-submarine helicopter and advanced radar to detect missiles.

Its slightly smaller comrade, Yuncheng, has a displacement of 4,000 tonnes. A navy officer on board said the weapons were not used against the pirates, given that their vessels 'were just like fishing boats'.

Hong Kong invited the ships to make a port call on their way home to Zhanjiang in Guangdong province as part of celebrations to mark the handover anniversary.

Visitor Winnie Tse said: 'They have a wide variety of weapons.'

Jacky Kwok, 35, said: 'There are not many opportunities to learn about the Chinese military.

'By protecting ships from Somali pirates, this also shows that China is shouldering its international responsibilities.'