Beijing/Kunming (China Daily/ANN) - Joint patrol forces from four countries along the Mekong River have escorted a total of 89 ships and saved 147 sailors from attacks by hijackers since December, a Chinese officer said.
The figures were released before the forces will launch a sixth patrol tomorrow. The patrol will last six days.
The forces, bringing together China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, have conducted five joint patrols since the four countries established a joint command centre in Guanlei port of Xishuangbanna, in Southwest China's Yunnan province.
The forces handled seven reports of hijacks and attacks involving 14 Chinese cargo ships and they recouped economic losses of up to 30 million yuan (US$4.75 million), said Zhu Dezhong, deputy director from Yunnan Provincial Frontier Defence Bureau.
The five escort missions cover the river from Guanlei to Chiang Saen harbour in Thailand.
According to the bureau, during the five joint patrols, the four countries sent a total of 29 law enforcement vessels and 737 police.
Those efforts have helped revive the shipping industry along the Mekong River, after businesses came to a standstill after 13 Chinese sailors were killed in the Thai session of the river on Oct. 5.
Naw Kham, a suspected drug-trafficking ring lord, will face trial today in China on charges of masterminding the killing.
Since the command centre was set up, four nations have enhanced exchanges of intelligence, organisation and coordination, and have established 24-hour joint patrols and law enforcement liaison channels.
Other efforts to boost the cooperation included setting up an intercom system along the river in November, according to Huang Wei, a senior officer from the Yunnan Provincial Frontier Defence Bureau.
After the system is in place, cargo ships facing a possible hijacking or attack will be able to report to the command centre through GPS devices, Huang said.
Patrol ships nearest the cargo ships will rush to assist, Huang said.
But Zhu said the fight against armed gangs along the river will be arduous and long.
"Remnants of Naw Kham's criminal gang and small local armed forces have not been eliminated," he said. "China still faces many challenges to ensure security along the river."