Japan expands participation in anti-piracy task force

Japan expands participation in anti-piracy task force

Tom Abke

Japan will extend its participation in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia for another year to protect a key sea lane and valuable maritime assets.

The decision, which was announced November 10, 2020, by Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, will expand the role of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) in countering piracy along the East African coast since they first deployed there in 2009 as part of the 20-country Combined Task Force 151.

The number of deployed personnel will increase from 90 to 130, and the number of support staff stationed at the recently upgraded JSDF base in Djibouti will rise from 110 to 120.

Piracy attacks near Somalia dropped dramatically during anti-piracy operations, from 358 between 2010 and 2015 and to eight between 2015 and 2019, according to the German statistics database firm Statista. Kishi credited the drop to the “deterrent effect” of anti-piracy forces off the Somalia coast and in the Gulf of Aden.

Japan sent a pair of destroyers and two P-3C maritime patrol aircraft to the region in March 2009, Japan’s Ministry of Defense reported. Maritime vessels escorted 3,577 ships in 621 escort missions through waters where pirates were known to be active between 2009 and 2015. The P-3Cs have completed thousands of patrols since 2009, and Japan has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid to Somalia to address poverty, which it considers the root cause of Somali piracy. (Pictured: Japanese Sailors return home in June 2020 after participating in anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden for about seven months.)

Japan opened its military base in Djibouti in June 2011 and began expanding it in 2017, adding 3 hectares to the 12 hectares it leased from the Djibouti government, reported The Japan Times newspaper.

Japan began to engage in the anti-piracy effort after attacks on its own vessels near the Malacca Strait, Cambridge University researcher Victor Teo wrote in his 2019 book, Japan’s Arduous Rejuvenation as a Global Power. Five Japanese vessels were attacked or hijacked between 1992 and 2001, including the tanker Nagasaki Spirit, which collided with another vessel during a hijacking, causing a massive oil spill and a fire that killed 44 sailors.

With Japan’s economy heavily dependent on imports and exports, Teo wrote, piracy became “construed as a threat to Japan’s comprehensive national security.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.