Coast guard may not have to board to boot intruder ships

Kyodo

The government is looking at authorizing the Japan Coast Guard to order foreign ships to leave the nation’s territorial waters without onboard inspections.

The proposed legal change is designed to tighten sea patrols in response to incidents such as the 2010 high-profile clash between patrol vessels and a Chinese trawler they were trying to shoo away from the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, government sources said Tuesday.

Under planned revisions to a law on navigation for foreign vessels and another governing the coast guard’s conduct, the service would be able to immediately order foreign ships to leave the nation’s waters unless they have a legitimate reason to be there, such as during bad weather.

Violators of the provisions would face up to one year in prison or up to ¥500,000 in penalties.

Changes are also being considered to give coast guard personnel the authority to investigate, on behalf of police, crimes committed on remote uninhabited islands, including trespassing and vandalism, the sources said.

The changes are aimed at coping with poaching, tensions arising from drilling in gas fields in the East China Sea and territorial claims to the Senkaku Islands, and developments in North Korea.

The revisions are to be submitted to the Diet during the current legislative session, with the Cabinet expected to adopt them at the end of this month, according to the sources.

Under current law, the coast guard can’t order foreign ships staying or circling within Japanese territorial waters without legitimate reasons to leave unless its personnel conduct onboard inspections. Such inspections are difficult to conduct in rough weather or when there are too many vessels to board.

The changes would enable the coast guard to tell ships to leave if they are deemed to be in violation judging from their appearances or their activities. If the vessels don’t comply with orders to leave their crews would face penalties.

The September 2010 arrest of the Chinese trawler skipper after his boat collided with coast guard cutters trying to force it away from the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands heightened tensions with China, which also claims the uninhabited islets.