Japan destroyers set sail on anti-piracy mission

Pirates are caught on camera off the Somalian coast.
Two Japanese destroyers set sail Saturday on an anti-piracy mission off Somalia, the Japanese defense ministry said.

The Japanese Cabinet approved the mission Friday. It marks the first policing action for the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF), whose major overseas missions have previously focused on background support such as transport and refueling, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said. The move comes after Somali pirates released a Japanese-owned vessel that was hijacked in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden in November, according to a nongovernmental group that monitors piracy. The ship was released last month. Roughly 400 MSDF personnel and eight coast guard officers are aboard the two destroyers, each of which carry two SH-60K patrol helicopters and two speedboats, officials told Kyodo.

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The 4,650-ton Sazanami and 4,550-ton Samidare destroyers left their base in the southern port city of Kure after a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Taro Aso and Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, Kyodo reported. Once the destroyers reach the Gulf of Aden in two to three weeks, they will escort vessels linked to Japan, such as Japanese-registered ships, vessels with Japanese nationals or cargo on board, or ships operated by Japanese shipping firms, Kyodo said. Japan Coast Guard officers are aboard the destroyers to process judicial matters, including collecting evidence and handling suspects, in the event that the vessels encounter pirates, Kyodo reported. MSDF members aboard the destroyers may fire warning shots if they encounter pirates, but under Japanese law they are not allowed to harm the pirates except in limited circumstances like self-defense, Kyodo reported. To better deal with pirate attacks, the Japanese government submitted an anti-piracy bill to Parliament on Friday which, if passed, would provide more latitude in stopping piracy, including firing at pirate boats that close in on commercial ships despite repeated warnings to stop, Kyodo reported. The bill would also enable the MSDF to protect any ship, including those without a Japanese connection — a provision government officials say is needed to fulfill Japan’s international obligations, Kyodo said.