The 370-day, 41,000-nautical-mile global voyage will take the vessel across the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean, including waters near Somalia.
The crew has been trained to cope with possible pirate attacks, the vessel's captain Cao Yezheng said. "We have 12 contingency plans to tackle pirate threats."
Tao Chunhui, the chief scientist of the 492-strong expedition team, said they will conduct a series of oceanic surveys mainly on polymetallic sulphide, bio-resources and the environment.
The vessel carries advanced scientific instruments, including a remotely-operated underwater vehicle, said Tao.
It will anchor in Cyprus, Nigeria, Brazil, South Africa and Mauritius to get supplies before its scheduled return to Qingdao in the eastern province of Shandong on May 2, 2013.