Japanese warship departs for Gulf of Oman to patrol oil lifeline
Top Stories | Feb 20, 2020:
A Japanese destroyer left for the Gulf of Oman in early February 2020 amid simmering Middle East tension to guard sea lanes that supply nearly all the oil that powers the world’s third-biggest economy.
“Thousands of Japanese ships ply those waters every year, including vessels carrying nine-tenths of our oil. It is Japan’s lifeline,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the crew at Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo, before they cast off in a ceremony attended by 500 family members and representatives from Europe, the Middle East and U.S. (Pictured: Crews on Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Takanami wave as they depart for the Middle East from Yokosuka Naval Base.)
Abe’s government has said it is prepared to authorize force to protect ships in danger, a controversial decision because Japan’s war-renouncing constitution forbids the use of military force in international disputes.
Japan maintains cordial relations with Iran and other countries there, and Abe traveled to the region in January to brief Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on the mission after earlier speaking with Iranian leaders.
Tensions in the Middle East between Iran and the United States escalated after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of a 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions on it.
The United States has blamed Iran for several attacks on international merchant vessels, including a Japanese-owned tanker, the Kokuka Courageous. Tehran denies the accusation. In addition to the Gulf of Oman, the Takanami, with 200 Sailors and two helicopters, will patrol the northern Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, but it will not enter the Strait of Hormuz, a strategically important choke point between Iran and the Arabian Peninsula.
The Japanese destroyer will share water in the region with a growing number of warships from other countries, including vessels from Britain, France and the U.S.
“Japanese merchant ships were attacked in June, and other nations have increased patrols, so Japan too is acting to gather intelligence there,” the mission commander, Capt. Yosuke Inaba, told reporters before he departed.