China is for the first time sending a submarine to the coast of East Africa to take part in anti-piracy patrols and escort tasks there.
The submarine docked at the port of Sri Lanka’s capital Columbo on September 15 on its way to the Gulf of Aden, becoming the first Chinese submarine to visit Sri Lanka.
The vessel that stopped at Columbo International Container Terminal was a diesel electric Type 039 Song class submarine, commissioned in 2006. It is being accompanied by the Type 925 class submarine support vessel Changxingdao, according to IHS Jane’s Navy International.
This is not the first time that submarines have been used on anti-piracy deployments. Between August and December 2010 the Dutch Walrus class submarine HNLMS Zeeleeuw joined the NATO anti-piracy task force in the Gulf of Aden and between June and December 2012 the Dutch Navy deployed its submarine HNLMS Bruinvis to the Gulf of Aden.
It is believed that Iran has also used submarines to patrol for pirates in region over the last several years and the United States has also had submarines active off the Somali coast since 2008.
China has deployed anti-piracy task forces to the Gulf of Aden since December 2008 and has escorted 5 670 Chinese and foreign ships and assisted over 60 vessels. Since the first task force arrived off East Africa in January 2009, Chinese navy task forces have been typically rotated every four months.
The 18th People’s Liberation Army Navy escort task force set sail for East Africa at the beginning of August. It comprises the amphibious dock landing ship Changbaishan, the guided missile frigate Yuncheng and the supply ship Chaohu Lake. The task force also includes three helicopters and 100 special operations members.
Apart from keeping a watch for pirates, the Chinese vessels also cooperate with foreign navies. For instance, on September 22 the EU Naval Force flagship, ITS Andrea Doria, met the the CNS Changbaishan in the Gulf of Aden. The EU Force Commander, Rear Admiral Guido Rando, accompanied by the commanding officer of the flagship, Captain Gianfranco Annunziata, and an additional six officers and petty officers, took the opportunity to visit the commander of the Chinese naval escort task group, Rear Admiral Zhang Chuanshu, on board his flagship.
They discussed matters of mutual interests, such as the on-going piracy threat and the importance of coordinating naval activities in the piracy high risk areas, particularly during the inter-monsoon period, when the threat from piracy is increased due to improved weather conditions off the Somali coast, which make it easier for pirates to get out to sea, the EU Naval Force said.
Chinese anti-piracy task forces visit ports in the region, such as in Djibouti, Oman and Yemen, to take on supplies but have also embarked on friendly visits to countries in the area. Earlier this year the 16th escort task group visited eight African countries, including South Africa, after concluding its anti-piracy duties.
The Type 054A missile frigate FFG-546 Yancheng, the Type 053H3 missile frigate FFG-527 Luoyang and the new Type 903 replenishment ship AOE-889 Taihu stopped in Cape Town in June after visiting Tunisia, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Cameroon, Angola and Namibia.
Although warships of the Chinese Navy have been to South Africa before, this was the first time that they had visited the seven other nations. The last occasion was in April 2011, when the 7th Escorting Flotilla paid a goodwill visit to Durban.