In what is becoming a frequent stopover destination for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), the 28th Escort Task Group (ETG546) arrived in Naval Base Simon’s Town on the morning of Wednesday 27 June for four-day goodwill visit to the South African Navy.
Arriving four months after a brief stop by the 27th Escort Task Group in the Port of Cape Town, the current Task Group comprises Type 054A frigates YANCHENG (Hull 546 acting as the flagship) and WEIFANG (Hull 550), together with the Type 903A replenishment ship TAIHU (AOR-889).
As the formation of warships berthed in the South African Navy’s premier naval base, the customary Chinese welcome ceremony of traditional dragon dancers entertained the embassy staff and local Chinese business people who lined the pier. At the welcoming ceremony, the SA Navy Band played the national anthems of the two countries, whilst China’s Consul General in South Africa (Cape Town), Kang Yong and Rear Admiral (JG) Solly Petersen, SA Navy Director Fleet Force Preparation, welcomed the members of the Task Group.
The Task Group is commanded by Senior Captain Wu Don Zhu, Deputy Chief of Staff of the PLAN of the Northern Theatre Command. In a brief address, he said that the visit “is a good demonstration of the traditional friendly ties and cooperation between China and South Africa and their militaries.”
The 28th Escort Task Group is composed of three warships from the PLA Navy’s North Sea Fleet (Beihai Fleet), headquartered at Qingdao on the southern coast of the Shandong Peninsula. Carrying a combined crew of 699 sailors, they started their escort mission in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia on 26 December 2017.The taskforce has successfully completed 30 escort missions in the past four months.
Handing over the mission to its successor, the 29th Chinese naval escort taskforce on 1 May, the 28th escort taskforce transited via the Mediterranean Sea to pay visits to three friendly countries. This included visits to Tema Port in Ghana, Douala Port (Cameroon) and Libreville (Gabon) prior to arriving in Simon’s Town.
Whilst the task force participated in joint military exercises at sea with Ghana and Cameroon, their goodwill visit to Cape Town will consist of visiting the Naval Academy and the SA Navy Museum, exchange visits to each other’s naval vessels and crew from both navies will compete against each other in a friendly soccer and table tennis matches during the course of the week.
The taskforce is due to depart Cape Town on Sunday 1 July to return to China via the Indian Ocean. This is not the first time that the TAIHU has berthed in Simon’s Town, as she visited in May 2016 as part of the 22nd Escort Task Group.
The Type 054A frigate (NATO codename Jiangkai II) is a Chinese multi-role frigates, the first of which entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Navy Surface Force in 2007. With a length of 135 m, the vessels carry an impressive array of sensors and weapons, including anti-surface and anti-air guided missiles, an anti-submarine rockets, torpedo launchers, a PJ26 76 mm dual purpose gun and two 7-barrel 30 mm CIWS guns. Each frigate also carries a Chinese-built Harbin Z-9 utility helicopter.
The 179m Type 903A Qiandaohu-class replenishment ship (NATO codename Fuchi) entered service with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy in 2003. It is able to provide abeam, astern and vertical replenishing of solid and liquid goods at sea. A flight deck allows operation of a single helicopter and the ship is equipped with two 30mm guns on the bow for self-defence.