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The government is considering legal revisions to allow for “preparatory” action by Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels that would enable them to deal quickly with suspicious ships spotted off Japan, Defense Agency chief Gen Nakatani said Friday.

“It is necessary to prepare for defensive action on the seas,” Nakatani said, referring to the Self-Defense Forces Law. “If a law is necessary for such preparatory action, then we have to consider revising the law.”

His remarks follow criticism of the government’s response to a suspected North Korean spy ship that sank in ember in the East China Sea after exchanging fire with the Japan Coast Guard, which encountered the vessel in Japanese waters and gave chase. MSDF craft failed to arrive at the scene in time.

However, some Defense Agency officials are opposed to the legal revision, saying current laws already allow for preparatory action.

“If we establish something new, like an order to remain on the alert to prepare, it would only serve to rein in our activities” in such times, one agency official said.

The SDF can take preparatory defensive action in the event of emergencies under the SDF Law, but the law does not stipulate the issuance of such orders for action at sea.

According to the existing SDF and Japan Coast Guard operations manuals, maintaining security at sea is primarily the duty of the coast guard.

But the Defense Agency chief is allowed to order the SDF to take defensive action at sea with the approval of the prime minister when there is a special necessity to protect life and property and to maintain maritime peace, according to the manuals.

Drug-smuggling tip

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) The Japan Coast Guard patrolled waters off Kyushu earlier this month after receiving a warning from China that a drug-smuggling vessel might enter Japanese territorial waters, investigators said Friday.

The investigators said Fukuoka Prefectural Police received the information from Chinese security authorities on April 4. They had said an unidentified ship might head for Japan after leaving Taiwan and sailing off the coast of North Korea.

The coast guard dispatched about 10 boats plus an unspecified number of aircraft to patrol off Kyushu, but the high-alert status was lifted April 6 after the vessel failed to appear, the investigators said.

Japan has tightened security off the coast of Fukuoka Prefecture and nearby prefectures after receiving similar warnings since November.

The authorities heightened security alert in the area led to the arrest of seven Chinese sailors when the coast guard and police found some 150 kg of stimulant drugs aboard a ship off the coast of Fukuoka in early January.

Five people were also arrested in China in connection with the case.

Japanese authorities began receiving information from several sources that a ship loaded with stimulants was headed for Japanese waters after a Dec. 22 shootout between Japanese patrol boats and an unidentified ship, believed to be North Korean, that later sank in the East China Sea, according to investigators.

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