Nabbing Pirates: For the first time in 600 years, China's navy is set to sail into action

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Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei told the UN Security Council that China is"seriously considering" sending ships to join the UN's anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia. His statement came after the Security Council on Tuesday authorised UN member states to act against the pirates on land as well as sea.

Forty ships have been hijacked this year by pirates operating from bases along the Somali coast. On Tuesday, a Chinese fishing vessel was boarded by pirates but escaped being taken after international warships in the area responded to its distress call and forced the pirates to flee. The 17 man crew of a Chinese fishing vessel seized in November are still being held hostage.

Britain, France, Russia and the US have already sent ships to the region, making China the only permanent member of the UN Security Council not to have committed to the anti-piracy mission. China has sent increasing numbers of troops to join UN peacekeeping forces in recent years, but never in frontline combat roles. News of the potential deployment, though, was hailed in China by people who flooded internet chat rooms to express their support.

If the ships sail, it will be the first time the navy has embarked on a combat mission outside Chinese waters since Zheng He, a eunuch who became China's most famous explorer, led seven missions to the Middle East and Africa in the early 15th Century.

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