A proposal on a new permanent antipiracy law that would enhance the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s rules of engagement off Somalia got the green light Wednesday by a ruling bloc policy panel.

The draft is likely to be approved by the Cabinet as early as March 13 and submitted to the Diet by month’s end.

“A new law must be approved as soon as possible,” former Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, who cochairs the antipiracy panel of the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling coalition, told reporters.

Nakatani said there have been 25 attacks so far this year by pirates around the Gulf of Aden.

“This is a rational law and must be approved,” Nakatani said, voicing hope that the Diet will hash out the details.

The MSDF is preparing a quick dispatch under a maritime police action provision of the Self-Defense Forces Law, but the use of weapons will be limited to self-defense.

The new antipiracy law will enable MSDF elements to protect non-Japanese ships under pirate attack off Somalia providing they are within a certain distance, according to the panel’s proposal.

Weapons use, which is permitted for self-defense under the provision, would be enhanced to precautionary use against approaching pirates.

The draft also stipulates that attackers who cause casualties could be arrested and their punishment could include the death penalty.

The actual sendoff based on the new law would be in early summer depending on Diet deliberations, but a member of the ruling bloc panel warned there is no time to spare.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada may order the MSDF dispatch off Somalia next week based on the maritime police provision, which allows the navy to protect only Japanese vessels and personnel on foreign ships and carriers transporting Japanese assets.

Weapons use will be limited to self-defense, and the ministry said the police provision will focus on deterring piracy.

The Defense Ministry revealed during the meeting Wednesday that the dispatch under the police provision will include two destroyers, four patrol helicopters and 400 crew members. Four officers from the Japan Coast Guard, who have authority to make arrests, will man each destroyer. The ships will operate from either Djibouti, Yemen or Oman.

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