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Staff writer

Cast a net. If that doesn’t work, fire a harpoon. These are among options being considered by the Defense Agency to stop rogue vessels in the future.

In the wake of the intrusion into Japanese waters by two boats that fled to North Korea last week, Defense Agency officials have started to cudgel their brains to cope with any similar situation under current laws.

Some Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers insist that laws be amended so that the Self-Defense Forces can stop unidentified vessels without approval from the prime minister and use weapons beyond the level of self-defense.

The government, however, is unlikely to quickly tackle amendments while it tries to temper a highly contentious debate over the Japan-U.S. defense guidelines bills, recently introduced to the Diet.

During a news conference Tuesday, Defense Agency chief Hosei Norota emphasized that his agency will discuss measures to stop unidentified vessels within the current legal framework.

He also stressed the importance of the SDF cooperating with police, the Maritime Safety Agency and U.S. forces in Japan in handling any repeat situation.

Rear Adm. Eiji Yoshikawa — commander of Maritime Self-Defense Force Escort Flotilla 3, based in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, and the man who directed last week’s sea chase — was called to the Defense Agency on Tuesday to explain the operation to top agency officials.

A source quoted Yoshikawa as saying that he did not want the MSDF destroyers to approach the fleeing boats too closely because their wakes could have toppled the 100-ton boats and perhaps harm the crew, going beyond the authority granted to the SDF. “We all agreed that although this was a first-time experience (a sea patrol mission ordered by the government), next time we must definitely stop them,” a senior Defense Agency official said after the hearing Tuesday.

The source said that Defense Agency leaders discussed having MSDF vessels equipped with machineguns, small boats for ship inspections and bulletproof jackets. “Firing bullets with reduced amounts of gunpowder against the vessel’s rudder or screw would work,” he said.

MSA Director General Yukio Kusuki told a Lower House committee that the MSA could not carry out its customary tactics — such as firing paint pellets to obscure the bridge windows or shooting rubber bullets — during last week’s chase because MSA patrol boats failed to catch up with the vessels, which reportedly increased their speed to 35 knots.

MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Yasumasa Yamamoto said the MSDF will beef up its equipment and study additional tactics for any similar encounter.

During last week’s tracking, the MSDF destroyer Haruna cast a net — 350 meters long and 1 meter wide — in an attempt to snag one of the fleeing boats in the Sea of Japan. But the boat dodged the net by swiftly cutting to the right, Rear Adm. Yoshikawa told a news conference on board the destroyer Myoko on Friday.

Asked if future MSDF tactics will include the use of nets and other equipment like harpoons, Yamamoto said, “Yes. We are serious.”

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