Following on from the article in June edition of the magazine Sekai no Kansen (Ships of the World), a loyal Japan Security Watch reader, who occasionally produces translations of Japanese magazine articles, forwarded on a follow-up article from the July 2011 edition entitled “Rescue Operations of Japan Coast Guard (JCG) in the Great East Japan Earthquake.” The article was written by Toru Takikawa, a former editor for the Mainichi Shimbun. The Coast Guard have not received the same attention as the Self-Defense Forces, despite being involved in the search and rescue efforts – partly this is due to them being far off shore and underwater, invisible to reporters on the ground, but also because they are far fewer in number. Nevertheless, like the SDF in the region and nationally, the JCG responded to the quake with a lot of hardware and personnel. Excerpts from the translation follow.

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A magnitude 9.0 earthquake occurred on 11 March at 14:46. Tsunami advisory and warnings were issued across the nation and the JCG dispatched ships and aircraft in all regions simultaneously. As several regions lifted the warnings and advisories, JCG shifted the focus of their operation to the most devastated area, the Tohoku region.

As of 10 May, the JCG response force includes 54 vessels — 33 patrol ships, 17 patrol boats, 1 aids to navigation vessel, and 3 hydrographic survey vessels; and 19 aircraft — 4 fixed wings and 15 helicopters. There are 6 members from the special rescue team, 6 members from the mobile rescue team, and 4 from the national strike team currently supporting the relief efforts. Total invested forces (work days) since 11 Marchis: 3279 patrol vessels, 1169 aircraft, 470 members from the special rescue team, 460 members from the mobile rescue team, and 244 from the national strike team.

Since the disaster, the JCG rescued 360 people to date (10 May). The teams have recovered 201 bodies. Furthermore, 449 drifting vessels were searched for survivors, and 70 were retrieved/towed back to various ports.

 

Divers from the patrol boat Yahiko search the floating debris for missing persons, March 28th

Divers from the patrol boat Yahiko search the floating debris for missing persons, March 28th (Source: 雷風パパ)

 

The JCG also patrols around the borders of the restricted water space surrounding Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The JCG provided disaster relief support by delivering various supplies, food, and water via ships and aircraft. The JCG also provided shelter for evacuees at two of the regional headquarters and supplied blankets and food.

Due to the severe damages to main roads, primary access to some of the devastated areas had to be via water — the JCG played a big role in securing access to ports by removing debris and obstacles. This effort allowed fuel tankers to gain access to deliver gasoline. The tsunami had damaged many of the sea marks too, but the JCG restored a total of 134 sea markers to secure safe navigation.

 

The Ooruri-1 fire-suppression helicopter, shown above, was mid-flight during the earthquake above the Coast Guard's Sendai Airbase. Two further choppers escaped the disaster by taking to the air, but the fixed wing craft at the base were swept away before they could finish pre-flight testing.

The Ooruri-1 fire-suppression helicopter, shown above, was mid-flight during the earthquake above the Coast Guard's Sendai Airbase. Two further choppers escaped the disaster by taking to the air, but the fixed wing craft at the base were swept away before they could finish pre-flight testing (Source: コリ)

 

The JCG was granted 12.5 billion yen to restore the damaged vessels and aircraft, 2.2 billion yen for cost incurred in SAR missions, and 1.9 billion yen for restoring sea marks from the primary supplementary budget (total 4 trillion yen), which includes restoration costs for the Great East Japan Earthquake. The 12.5 billion awarded to restore damaged vessels and aircraft include the following repairs:

  • 1.8 billion yen on the Bombardier
  • 2.8 billion yen on the Beach
  • 3 billion yen on Super Puma

 

Alongside checking the harbors for dead, the JCG chased down floating debris to check for survivors

Alongside checking the harbors for dead, the JCG chased down floating debris to check for survivors (Source: JCG)

 

So, was the JCG prepared for this level of disaster?

JCG Region 2 had been warning the dangers of tsunami for quite some time through photo exhibitions and speeches. They had regularly scheduled “Disaster Preparedness Talks” in the Tohoku regions to elevate the awareness. Although they didn’t expect to experience a 9.0 magnitude and 25,000 dead and missing persons, they believe that their efforts paid off to those who reacted because of the knowledge given through the JCG’s efforts.

However, despite the fact that the JCG has been putting forth significant efforts in disaster relief, the media focus their coverage on the SDF. The reality is that the number of personnel involved is significantly lower than SDF and perhaps another reason is the missions are farther away from the coast line so it’s out of sight as well. However, the videotape of MATSUSHIMA navigating over the Tsunami waves has been a sensational footage via internet. Perhaps if this tape would have been released sooner, the JCG could have received appropriate recognition accordingly.

 

JCG Matsushima scales the tsunami wave

 

JCG rescue a dog from flotsam after 4 days at sea

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch