BEIJING - China said yesterday that it planned to dispatch warships to join an international effort battling rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia - the Chinese navy's first major mission outside the Pacific.

The announcement came a day after a Chinese cargo ship's crew, aided by an international antipiracy force, fought off a hijacking attempt in the Gulf of Aden using Molotov cocktails and water hoses.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said Beijing welcomed stronger international cooperation in countering piracy, which has become a major problem in the waters off Somalia's coast.

"We are making preparations and arrangements to deploy naval ships to the Gulf of Aden for escorting operations," Liu said without elaborating on the mission.

The Global Times, a newspaper published by the Communist Party, said the fleet could consist of two cruisers and one large supply ship.

For China's navy, which has concentrated mainly on the country's coastal defense, it would mark its first involvement in multilateral operations in modern times, said Christian LeMiere, a senior analyst for Jane's Country Risk, a security intelligence group.

Participating in the patrols allows China to use its naval power in a way that is not threatening to other countries, he said. At the same time, the military muscle "shows China is willing and able to protect its economic interests overseas."

In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Stewart Upton, said the United States welcomed China's move.

China's warships would join ships from the United States, Denmark, Italy, Russia and other countries in patrolling the Gulf of Aden, which is one of the world's busiest waterways and has become infested with heavily armed Somalian pirates.

Spurred by widespread poverty in their homeland, the pirates have hijacked more than 40 vessels off their country's coast this year - many in the gulf. Many of the vessels are taken to pirate-controlled regions in Somalia and held for ransom.