Japanese tanker refuels Pakistani destroyer Tariq (ex-HMS Ambuscade) at sea. Photo via JapanFocus, which did not give proper credit to AP/Kyodo.

As reported here last month, the idea has been floated of replacing the cancelled Indian Ocean refueling mission with a similar mission to refuel ships involved in the anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia. The idea got a boost earlier this week as it was revealed several nations explicitly requested MSDF tanker support.

The vast expanse of sea that needs to be patrolled requires the vessels to regularly return to be refueled. During multinational talks on measures to stamp out piracy, Japan received requests for refueling operations at sea from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union, South Korea and India, among others.

Japan currently does not have a refueling vessel operating off Somalia as MSDF vessels conduct antipiracy operations only in a limited area. However, the government has started considering sending refueling vessels to the region, the sources said. (Link)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for Japanese-South Korean relations if Japanese ships refueled South Korean ones?

There are political obstacles to be cleared, though.

The largest hurdle the government must clear before the plan can get the green light will be revising the law governing antipiracy missions.

The law was enacted in June 2009 under the coalition government of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, and went into force the following month.

The MSDF previously conducted antipiracy missions based on a maritime police action provision under the Self-Defense Forces Law. But the legal ground for MSDF antipiracy operations has shifted to the new law, under which MSDF personnel are permitted to protect foreign ships and fire at pirate ships to stop an attack. But the law does not allow MSDF vessels to refuel foreign ships.

Since the opposition camp holds a majority in the upper house, the government will need the opposition’s support to revise the law. The main opposition LDP supports antipiracy activities per se, but observers believe the ruling camp could struggle to persuade opposition parties to get behind the plan–regardless of the content of the legislation–if confrontation in the divided Diet intensifies.

Out of concern of my head exploding, I will refrain from covering action in the legislature about this. Japanese politics are just not my strong suit and make my brain hurt. The next time I intend to cover this subject is to announce if the action has been given the green light or not.

Another interesting point the article brings up: the ruling DPJ party originally wanted to send the Japan Coast Guard to Somalia instead of the Maritime Self Defense Force. This sounds like a perfectly reasonable idea.

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan had argued before taking power last year that antipiracy measures should be handled mainly by the Japan Coast Guard.

However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku acknowledged Friday that the DPJ had realized the scope of the mission would be beyond the JCG’s capabilities

Why, exactly? Isn’t piracy exactly what Coast Guards are meant for? It sounds like a perfectly reasonable economy of force operation. The threat of pirates with AKs and RPGs doesn’t exactly call for something expensive and bristling with firepower.

I mean, you’d have to be a real idiot to send billion dollar battleships to chase pirates in skiffs, right?

USS Bainbridge, DDG-96, part of CTF-151. U.S. Navy photo.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 536 post(s) on Japan Security Watch