China naval forces deployed on Gulf of Aden transits.
THE People"s Liberation Army Navy is now routinely deploying armed special forces on ships flagged in both China and Hong Kong during transits in the Gulf of Aden, coming good on a promise made in November last year.
Roger Tupper, director of Hong Kong"s Marine Department, added that the offer of vessel protection detachments had also been extended to Taiwanese operators, although he could not say whether the opportunity had been taken up.
Two major Taiwanese shipping concerns, Evergreen and Formosa Marine Corporation, declined to comment on the matter, citing local sensitivities on the question. Beijing regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, and the suggestion that PLA forces are active on Taiwanese vessels will inevitably prove controversial.
?From our standpoint, we are only concerned with the outcome of operations rather than day-to-day things,? Mr Tupper told Lloyd"s List. ?The general feeling of Hong Kong shipowners is to be grateful for the protection that is provided, and operations are continuing.?
The move is being seen as in line with China"s increased commitment to counter-piracy efforts in the region, symbolised by last week"s announcement that it is to take on co-ordination responsibilities for the majority of other navies in the area later this year, despite not being aligned to the west.
Chinese warships have been patrolling the region since January 2009, since when it has been running a convoy system for Chinese, Hong Kong and Taiwan registered vessels. There are typically ten convoys a month, five eastbound and five westbound.
All told, some 1,110 vessels have participated, including 313 ships registered in Hong Kong, which is the fourth-largest flag in the world by deadweight tonnage.
Mr Tupper said that the normal procedure is for Hong Kong flag vessels to contact the local search and rescue centre prior to transit through piracy-prone waters.
?It is a location point for owners and managers of Hong Kong flag ships to notify us of their wish to participate in an upcoming convoy, and they provide details which are then forwarded to Chinese authorities.?
He added that the Marine Department preferred to see the use of naval personnel to having operators hire private armed security guards, which could lead to the escalation of violence. Firearms are tightly controlled under Hong Kong law, and similar stipulations apply to tonnage registered in the special administrative region.
Meanwhile, two prominent Hong Kong shipping companies told the local media that while they participated in the convoy system, they had not asked for troops on board their ships. A representative of Pacific Basin, which operates smaller bulk carriers, said that ships of that vessel type were anyway unsuitable.