Japan’s defense minister has ordered two destroyers to help fight piracy in the waters off Somalia, officials with the defense ministry told CNN.
The Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers will be dispatched Saturday, the defense ministry said. The order, which the Cabinet approved earlier Friday, marks the first policing action for the MSDF, whose major missions overseas have focused on background support such as transport and refueling, Japan’s Kyodo news agency said. A bill approved on the same day allows the MSDF to be deployed in piracy-infested waters as needed. The move comes after Somali pirates released a Panamanian-flagged, Japanese-owned vessel that was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden in November, according to a non-governmental group that monitors piracy. The ship was released last month.
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The 18 Filipino and five South Korean crew members were reportedly unharmed. It was unclear whether the pirates were paid a ransom to release the ship. Japan Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the provision would be used on an interim basis, the news agency reported. Two destroyers with about 400 personnel and eight coast guard officers will be aboard the ships, whose escort mission will start in early April after about three weeks of sailing toward Somalia, according to the news agency.