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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Steam for Somalia, MSDF told

Staff writer

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada issued the order Friday to send two Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers on a patrol for pirates off Somalia.

The flotilla will depart from Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Saturday.

The mission will be the first overseas under the maritime police-action provision of the Self-Defense Forces Law.

"It is our duty to protect the lives of Japanese nationals and their property. We will take the wisest measures in doing so," Hamada told reporters, adding, "An SDF dispatch always comes with danger, and we will handle this mission with caution."

The Defense Ministry said the destroyers deployed will be the 4,650-ton Sazanami and 4,550-ton Samidare. Each has a 200-strong crew, two helicopters and small high-speed boats. Four Japan Coast Guard officers with the authority to make arrests will also be aboard each ship.

The trip to the Gulf of Aden will take two to three weeks, and the Foreign Ministry will set up an office in Djibouti to coordinate their arrival.

In the meantime, the Cabinet approved a bill Friday to create a new permanent law that would authorize the MSDF to protect ships of any nationality against pirates. The Diet will deliberate on the bill in the coming months.

The current SDF law is restrictive in that it only allows the MSDF to protect ships registered as Japanese or those carrying Japanese nationals and goods. Even under the maritime police-action provision, the MSDF can only protect ships that are either Japanese or managed by Japanese companies, or vessels carrying Japanese crew or cargo for Japan.

The guideline also limits the use of weapons to emergency evacuations and self-defense.

Regarding concerns that the provision may tie the hands of MSDF, Hamada told reporters it is the government's responsibility to execute the mission regardless of the conditions. But he also expressed hope that the new bill, which will give the forces more leeway in the use of arms and allow them to protect multinational ships, will be enacted promptly.

Under the newly proposed antipiracy law, precautionary use of weapons would be allowed against approaching pirates.

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