The government will transport to Japan four pirates who attacked a tanker run by a Japanese company off the coast of Oman in the Indian Ocean, government sources said Tuesday.
The transfer of the pirates to Japan will mark the first such case since an antipiracy law took effect in July 2009 that stipulates that acts of piracy are punishable by prison terms ranging from five years to life.
U.S. forces, which took the four into custody, are expected to hand them over to the Maritime Self-Defense Force as early as Tuesday, and an MSDF destroyer in Oman will take them to Djibouti, where the ship is based for antipiracy operations, the sources said.
The government is considering using a Japan Coast Guard aircraft to transfer the pirates from Djibouti to Japan.
The Bahamian-registered 57,462-ton Guanabara, run by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines Ltd., was transporting heavy oil from Ukraine to China when it was approached by a small boat at around 9 p.m. Saturday Japan time. The four pirates from the craft boarded the tanker at around 10 p.m.
While dispatching a distress signal, the tanker’s crew remained in an evacuation room. The pirates gave themselves up around 5:20 p.m. Sunday to U.S. Navy and Turkish naval vessels steaming nearby, the transport ministry said.
None of the 24 crew members, all non-Japanese, was hurt, and the vessel is not leaking any oil and can travel on its own, according to the ministry.
After the pirates arrive in Japan, they will be questioned by Japan Coast Guard investigators, Justice Ministry and prosecution sources said.
The Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office will then decide whether to file criminal charges, the sources said.
The prosecutor’s office was to send a team of investigators to Oman later Tuesday, the sources said.
Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ohata, whose ministry oversees the coast guard, told a news conference that the government is currently studying how to handle the pirates.
Basically, the Bahamas, where the tanker is registered, should handle the pirates, Ohata said.
The 2009 antipiracy law allows the Japan Coast Guard to respond to pirate acts against Japanese and non-Japanese vessels in Japanese territorial waters or on the high seas. It also allows coast guard officers to use weapons if necessary.
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