Bill drafted for JCG, MSDF to inspect North vessels

Skippers who refuse to heave to for cargo checks face prison, fines

by Masami Ito

A project team of the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc endorsed the outline of a special bill to enable both the Japan Coast Guard and the Maritime Self-Defense Force to inspect vessels sailing to or from North Korea suspected of being involved in arms shipments.

The government and ruling coalition have been keen on drafting and enacting the bill as soon as possible, following the recent U.N. resolution 1874, which calls on member states to inspect vessels to prevent Pyongyang from engaging in arms-related shipments.

The bill stipulates that cargo inspections will largely be handled by the coast guard,while the MSDF will mainly be tasked with following suspect vessels and collecting information on them.

However, the MSDF will be able to check ships in special cases, including if it has prior information that a vessel is heavily armed, according to New Komeito’s Shigeki Sato, who cochairs the project team with LDP lawmaker and ex-Defense Minister Gen Nakatani.

Under the bill, cargo inspections will be conducted in both Japanese territorial waters and on the high seas and would allow authorities to seize and keep items impound vessels. The captain could be imprisoned for up to two years or fined up to ¥100 million in the event of a refusal to cooperate.

The government is set to submit the bill to the Diet in early July and aims to enact it during the current Diet session, which has been extended to July 28. But its enactment also depends on when Prime Minister Taro Aso decides to dissolve the Lower House and call a snap election.

Sato stressed the importance of passing the bill during the Diet session.

“Japan cannot just neglect (the situation), saying we can’t do anything because we have no law,” Sato said. “We think it is rational to make sure Japan has a domestic law that firmly” allows ship inspections.

Contrary to the recently enacted antipiracy law that relaxed regulations on the use of military force, Nakatani and Sato explained that under their agreed plan, weapons could only be used in accordance with current law.