03/14/2009, 00.00
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Japanese warships join fight against pirates in Somalia

They are leaving today for the Gulf of Aden. The constitution permits only military actions of self-defense, but 61% of the country views the effort favorably.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Two Japanese warships will begin their mission off the Somali coast, to combat piracy. The two ships set sail today, and will reach the Gulf of Aden in three weeks. But the decision of the defense ministry is controversial: according to its constitution, Japan may engage only in actions of self-defense. Critical voices are noting that this effort - in which the ships could use lethal force - risks constituting a precedent for the Japanese military forces.

Defense minister Yasukazu Hamada notes that "piracy off Somalia is a threat to Japan and the international community," and that "it is an important duty for the self-defense forces to protect Japanese lives and assets." A survey conducted by the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun demonstrates that at least 61% of Japanese have a favorable view of the effort against piracy.

Yesterday evening, the government of Tokyo presented a draft law to expand the purposes for which military force could be used, permitting also the protection of foreign ships.

The Japanese ships are going to join others from the United States, the European Union, and China, which are trying to protect merchant vessels in one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Every year, at least a thousand Japanese ships pass through the Suez Canal. So far, no Japanese ship has been attacked.

In 2008, there were 95 attacks in Somali waters, with 35 ships taken hostage. Of these, 17 are still in the hands of the pirates.

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