The Chinese naval ensign, rarely seen far from Asian waters, has been flying this month in a region of the world that has caught few glimpses of the expanding People's Liberation Army Navy: the Mediterranean Sea.
Two Chinese warships, the destroyer Guangzhou and frigate Chaohu, docked Monday morning in the Greek port of Pireaus, where, according to the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, they were cheered by about 200 Chinese nationals on hand for the occasion.
The ships were in the Mediterranean after an anti-piracy patrol off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, during which, according to Xinhua, they escorted 588 merchant ships, Chinese and foreign. It was the fifth Chinese escort flotilla deployed since March, and is commanded by Rear Adm. Zhang Wendan, deputy chief of staff of the Chinese Navy's South Sea Fleet, according to Xinhua.
The Guangzhou and Chaohu previously visited Taranto, Italy, and Alexandria, Egypt, after wrapping up their anti-piracy mission in July.
A sixth naval escort flotilla has taken up the mission off East Africa. The new formation includes the destroyer Lanzhou, oiler Weishan Hu and the amphibious transport Kunlunshan, on its first deployment since entering service in 2008. The Kunlunshan, displacing about 17,600 tons, is nearly 700 feet long, and is China's first large amphibious assault ship, able to carry air-cushion vehicles and large helicopters.