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The Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Japan Coast Guard conducted a joint antipiracy exercise Friday off Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture.

The exercise precedes the deployment expected early next month of two MSDF destroyers — the 4,650-ton Sazanami and the 4,550-ton Samidare — to the Gulf of Aden to protect Japan-related ships from pirates off Somalia.

The exercise was based on a scenario in which two destroyers — the same models as the Sazanami and Samidare — and an MSDF helicopter repel a boatload of pirates, played by a coast guard vessel, that are chasing a Japanese-registered commercial ship, also played by a coast guard vessel.

The destroyers entered waters where the commercial ship was being tailed and ordered the pirates to stop approaching it.

MSDF officials boarded the pirate boat, captured the pirates after they surrendered, and handed them to coast guard officials on the destroyers to pursue criminal charges.

In an actual encounter with pirates, however, the helicopter would fire warning shots to scare them off, MSDF officials said. But personnel would also be restricted to using weapons in self-defense or other limited circumstances.

Conspicuously absent from Friday’s exercise were the two destroyers that will participate in the mission — the Sazanami and the Samidare, which belong to the 8th Escort Division based in Kure.

The ships are undergoing upgrades to their satellite communications equipment ahead of the planned deployment next month, MSDF officials said.

Earlier this month, the Sazanami and Samidare conducted a firing drill with an MSDF helicopter near the Bungo Channel separating Kyushu and Shikoku.

The Self-Defense Forces are working with the coast guard to devise rules of engagement for the mission so the crew can have a proper legal framework for dealing with pirates while on escort duty.

Late last month, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada directed the MSDF to prepare for deployment to the pirate-infested gulf, which links the Indian Ocean to the Suez Canal.

Once the dispatch order is issued, the two destroyers will be sent to begin an escort mission off Somalia. Japan is considering deploying several P-3C patrol aircraft as part of the mission.

The destroyers will protect Japanese-registered ships and foreign ships with Japanese nationals or shipments aboard under a maritime police action provision of the SDF law that is serving as the legal basis for the dispatch.

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