Japan to build own housing, plane tarmac in Djibouti for piracy patrols

Kyodo News

Japan will build its own base in Djibouti to house Self-Defense Forces personnel and patrol planes involved in antipiracy operations off Somalia, government sources said Thursday.

Tokyo plans to complete a tarmac for Maritime Self-Defense Force P-3C surveillance planes and housing facilities in the strife-torn country next year, the sources said. Japan currently rents facilities owned by the private sector and the U.S. military.

The plan signals Japan’s deepened commitment to the antipiracy mission, which came under a new law on July 24 that expands the types of commercial ships to be escorted by the SDF.

The U.S. also asked Japan to build its own facilities to carry out full-fledged operations, the sources said.

At present, about 150 members of the Ground Self-Defense Force and MSDF stationed in Djibouti live in U.S. military lodgings near an airport. Japan also rents a hangar for two P-3C planes and trucks from an airport management company based in Dubai.

Tokyo has been negotiating with the Dubai firm to build a tarmac and housing near the airport, the sources said.

Two MSDF destroyers have been escorting vessels in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden since the mission began March 30.

The MSDF’s two P-3Cs have been patrolling the gulf and conveying information on suspicious vessels to commercial ships and foreign navies since June 11.

Piracy is rampant in the gulf and off the coast of Somalia, where sea bandits, often heavily armed, have been hijacking tankers and other commercial ships so they can demand huge ransoms to free the vessels and their crew.

The United States, the European Union, Russia and China have sent naval forces to the region to fend off the pirates and many of their ships are deployed to Djibouti.

After the new antipiracy law took effect, the 4,550-ton MSDF destroyer Harusame and 3,500-ton destroyer Amagiri left their bases July 6 to take over escort duties from two other destroyers Tuesday.

In their first antipiracy operation, which ended Thursday, the two destroyers protected five vessels, including two foreign-flagged ships with no connections to Japan.