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REFILING: LEAD: Japan orders MSDF dispatch for antipiracy mission off Somalia.

TOKYO, March 13 Kyodo


Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada on Friday ordered the dispatch of Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers on an antipiracy mission off the coast of Somalia, government officials said.

The dispatch, which is expected to come on Saturday, will signify the first policing action abroad for Japan's Self-Defense Forces, whose major missions overseas have so far been largely rear-area support, such as refueling, transportation and reconstruction missions.

The Cabinet laid the ground for the order earlier in the day by approving the dispatch to the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden under the maritime police action provision of the Self-Defense Forces Law.

Cabinet endorsement is needed to invoke the law's Article 82, which stipulates that the SDF may take necessary actions at sea to safeguard Japanese lives and property in situations that exceed the capacity of the Japan Coast Guard.

The Cabinet also approved a bill on the same day that would enable the deployment of the SDF abroad as needed to deal with pirate attacks on the high seas. Defense Minister Hamada has advocated the bill's passing, saying the use of the maritime policing provision should only be on an interim basis.

Once the order is given, two destroyers -- the 4,650-ton Sazanami and 4,550-ton Samidare of the 8th Escort Division of the 4th Escort Flotilla -- are to leave their base in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Saturday afternoon.

A total of roughly 400 MSDF personnel and eight coast guard officers will board the ships, each to carry onboard two SH-60K patrol helicopters and two speedboats, according to the Defense Ministry.

Members of the commando-style MSDF Special Boarding Unit will also board the ships to deal with encounters with Somali pirates, who are said to be armed with such weapons as rockets and automatic rifles.

The fleet is expected to take two to three weeks to arrive in the gulf, making it likely that the escort mission will begin around early April.

According to the ministry, the destroyers will escort Japan-linked ships -- Japanese-registered ships, foreign ships with Japanese nationals or shipments on board, and other ships operated by Japanese shipping firms.

Coast guard officers will be at hand aboard the destroyers to process judicial matters, including collecting criminal evidence and handling crime suspects, in case the destroyers run into pirates.

In such encounters, MSDF personnel may fire warning shots to ward off pirates. But under the maritime policing provision, they cannot harm the bandits except under limited circumstances, such as for self-defense.

To better deal with pirate attacks, the government plans to submit to parliament an antipiracy bill, which, if passed, would provide more latitude in stopping piracy, including firing at pirate boats that ignore warnings to stop.

The bill would also enable the MSDF to protect any ships, including foreign vessels without Japanese connections -- a provision which government officials say is needed to fulfill Japan's international obligations.

It remains unclear, however, whether parliament would approve such a bill, given that the House of Councillors is controlled by the opposition. Some opposition parties are concerned about the potential use of force abroad, which is limited under the country's pacifist Constitution.

Japan also plans to deploy MSDF P-3C patrol aircraft to the gulf in several months to watch over the vast sea.

More than a dozen countries, including Russia, China, the United States and European Union countries, have deployed their naval vessels to waters around the Horn of Africa on antipiracy missions under the authority of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Piracy has been rampant in the waters, accounting for 111 cases last year, or more than double the cases reported a year earlier. That accounted for roughly one-third of all pirate incidents in the world.

Spurred in part by calls from the domestic shipping industry and China's dispatch of navy destroyers late last year, Prime Minister Taro Aso has been a strong advocate of Japan's involvement in the antipiracy campaign.
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Publication:Japan Policy & Politics
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Mar 16, 2009
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