China has dispatched two new naval warships to the piracy-hit Gulf of Aden to protect its merchant ships sailing in these waters.

These two ships will replace two other warships which were deployed in this area earlier. The new ships, one of which is a missile frigate, will join a supply ship which has been on duty for around three months, Xinhua reported.

The flotilla will have a 700-member crew, including a special force unit and two ship-borne helicopters.

China had taken the unprecedented step of sending three warships to the Gulf of Aden on December 26 last year to escort merchant vessels. Analysts say the recent hijacking of a Chinese merchant vessel has imparted urgency to Chinese naval deployments in a commercially vital stretch of the Indian Ocean. The Gulf of Aden is the gateway to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, a vital cog in the conduct of international commerce.

According to Xinhua, a Chinese coal-carrying vessel, De Xin Hai, with 25 crew members had been hijacked around 1,600 km away from an area where Chinese warships had been patrolling. The agency said it was not clear whether the new task force would be involved in a mission to rescue the hijacked ship. The Chinese frigates in the area have nevertheless intensified surveillance of the area using ship-borne helicopters and skiffs.

On September 18, the two Chinese frigates conducted a naval exercise in the Gulf of Aden with Russia, involving the Russian antisubmarine warfare ship Admiral Tributs.

More In: News | International