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Will Japanese Diet Approve Long-Awaited Counter-Piracy Bill?

By MarEx 2013-10-10 09:31:00

Shinobu Yamazoe

It is expected that the Japanese government will resubmit very soon a counter-piracy bill to the extraordinary Diet, scheduled to resume deliberations in mid-October, allowing foreign security contractors aboard Japanese flag vessels to carry firearms with them while sailing in piracy-infested areas.

In an earlier Diet session this year, the bill was passed by the Lower House but failed to clear in the Upper House, due to its running out of time for careful deliberation. Eventually the bill was withdrawn.

The expected upcoming action underscores not only the degree to which Japan’s economic well-being is dependent on secure maritime transportation, but also its admirable and on-going balance between historical lessons and current threats and possibilities.

The trial in a Tokyo court earlier this year of Somali pirates was a vivid reminder of how Japanese merchant crews, unlike those sailing under many other countries’ flags, were incapable of real self-defense in the Gulf of Aden and a large swath of the Indian Ocean—this even as the dangers of maritime marauders off West Africa were coming to the fore.

As AdvanFort International President William H. Watson has noted elsewhere in Piracy Daily, the current reassessment by the land of the sword and the chrysanthemum of its stance is crucial in retaining its global status as a leader in manufacturing, shipping and other critical industries.

Under the Sword and Firearm Control Law under consideration, vessels registered in Japan are not permitted to carry private armed guards onboard. In the bill drafted by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, warning shots will be permitted but firing at people will not, unless the situation is clearly one of self-defense.

Ship owners will be required to submit to the government for prior approval their security plans, details of the equipment, and the capabilities of hired security guards.  In addition, application is required to submit this paperwork for every voyage, in order that the government is informed properly.

In the previous bill, the legislation would have been limited to piracy-infested waters such as the coast of Somalia or in the Arabian Sea.  However, given the increased threat level now apparent in the Gulf of Guinea a strong case can be made that jurisdiction should further be studied as well.

In the meantime, during his four-nation tour in the Middle East from August 24 to 29, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a quick but very productive visit to Djibouti, where he inspected the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force base, the only permanent SDF security presence of that kind outside of Japan.

Abe reminded SDF troops who are under counter-piracy mission in that African nation since 2011 that the international community has high expectations of them, referring in particular to their role of protection from sea piracy in the area.

Thus, in addition to its already-significant contributions to the safety of the international maritime community, expectations are high that the Japanese government would take further steps to get the legislation passed in the upcoming extraordinary Diet session and allow Japanese vessels carry armed security personnel to improve their defense measures.