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The government may let the Maritime Self-Defense Force protect unrelated ships from pirates off Somalia and elsewhere, but only if they are nearby, government sources said Saturday.

A bill for a new antipiracy law that is being drafted will not force MSDF ships to protect foreign vessels attacked in distant waters, the sources said, implying that restrictions on their use of weapons during antipiracy operations under the Self-Defense Forces Law is not likely to be significantly eased.

The bill will be submitted to the Diet after Prime Minister Taro Aso’s Cabinet approves it early next month.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada plans to deploy destroyers for antipiracy patrols off Somalia around March 10.

Since the official antipiracy law is still being drafted, the destroyers will have to be dispatched under the pretext of maritime policing, which means situations in which they can use their weapons will be limited mainly to self-defense. Also, the MSDF will not protect foreign ships if they have no Japanese nationals or Japan-related shipments aboard in order to comply with the law governing police conduct.

The U.S., Britain, France, Germany, China and India have deployed destroyers off Somalia to escort commercial ships, conduct patrols and engage in other police activities.

About one-third of the world’s pirate attacks take place in waters near Somalia.

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