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Sunday, April 5, 2009

MSDF shoos away suspected pirates

Staff writer

A Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer scared off apparent pirate vessels approaching a Singapore-registered tanker Friday off Somalia, the Defense Ministry said.

News photo
Sailing orders: The Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers Sazanami (right) and Samidare depart from Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, last month for a mission off Somalia to protect Japan-related vessels. KYODO PHOTO

Although the Self-Defense Forces Law police-action provision under which the MSDF antipiracy mission is operating does not allow the flotilla to provide protection to non-Japan-related vessels, a ministry official said Friday's incident posed no violation because no weapons were used.

"What we did was within the limits of what was allowed, and we did what we could," the official told a press briefing.

The Defense Ministry claimed the warship's action is based on a law that requires the crew to "take necessary actions to save human life."

The 4,650-ton destroyer Sazanami, part of a two-destroyer MSDF flotilla dispatched in March, received a VHF radio message at 8:40 p.m. local time Friday, the Defense Ministry said.

The ship was patrolling approximately 4 nautical miles away from the tanker when it learned about three boats and a mother ship apparently approaching the tanker. The Defense Ministry said the Sazanami put its searchlights on the suspect vessels and scared them off with a bullhorn.

The boats left after about 10 minutes, another Defense Ministry official said, adding that the MSDF was unable to confirm if they were pirates.

The ministry did not reveal the specific location of the incident except to say the task force is escorting Japanese ships eastward in the Gulf of Aden.

The government is drafting a new permanent law to enhance the MSDF's rules of engagement against Somali pirates, but the law is expected to take months until its enactment.

The MSDF dispatched the Sazami and the 4,550-ton Samidare on March 30 to guard Japanese and Japan-related ships traveling off Somalia, the gateway to the Red Sea and Suez Canal.

The Sazanami and the 4,550-ton Samidare have been patrolling against pirates since Monday to protect Japan-linked ships, including Japanese-registered vessels, foreign registered ships with Japanese nationals or shipments on board and other boats operated by Japanese firms.

Information from Kyodo added

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