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The Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Sazanami came to the aid of a Canadian-registered freighter Saturday that was being approached by a suspected pirate vessel off Somalia, the Defense Ministry said.

It is the third time an MSDF destroyer engaged in antipiracy patrols in the area warded off suspicious vessels approaching a ship not falling under the maritime police-action provision of the Self-Defense Forces Law under which the MSDF flotilla is operating.

The Sazanami received a radio call from the Canadian ship and then sent its helicopter to ward off the approaching vessel, the ministry said.

The MSDF’s 4,550-ton destroyer Samidare and 4,650-ton Sazanami have been patrolling in the region since late last month to protect Japanese-linked ships, including Japanese-registered vessels, foreign ships with Japanese nationals or shipments on board and boats operated by Japanese firms.

Earlier this month, the destroyers helped a Singaporean-registered ship and a Maltese-registered ship on separate occasions.

The task force dispatch falls under a legal provision that only allows the MSDF ships to assist Japan-linked ships. The Defense Ministry has insisted, however, that coming to the aid of non-Japan-linked ships is also permissible because such action complies with the universal law of the sea, in which assistance must be rendered to any vessel in danger.

This has drawn criticism in Japan, however, that the MSDF ships have evaded the framework set by the SDF law.

The government has already submitted to the Diet a permanent bill to enhance and widen the MSDF’s rules of engagement in antipiracy missions to include also assisting non-Japan-related vessels.

The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition force, has demanded that the bill be revised so MSDF vessels can only be sent overseas after the Diet gives advance approval.

But during an NHK program aired Sunday, Taku Yamasaki, a foreign affairs panel member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, rejected that demand.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, policy affairs chief of New Komeito, the LDP’s junior partner in the ruling bloc, agreed, saying the Diet is very unstable because it is divided between the ruling bloc-controlled Lower House and opposition-controlled Upper House.

The situation would be very unstable if an overseas dispatch had to suddenly be subject to advance approval of the Diet, Yamaguchi said.

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