• Staff Report, Kyodo


A commercial seamen’s group has said it is firmly opposed to a government plan to utilize them as Maritime Self-Defense Force reservists in times of emergency in the disputed islands of the East and South China seas.

“It is regrettable that the government has been proceeding with the plan that totally ignores the voices of us sailors,” the All Japan Seamen’s Union said in a statement Friday.

The union was referring to the government’s defense budget for fiscal 2016 that set aside funds to hire 21 MSDF reservists.

“During the Pacific War, 15,518 private ships were sunk, claiming the lives of 60,609, a majority of them drafted, for engaging in transporting soldiers and military supplies,” the statement said. “We should never repeat such a tragedy.”

A government plan has been underway to ask commercial shipping firms to let the SDF use their vessels as military transports if remote Japanese islands have been invaded and need to be retaken since it will likely face severe transport shortfalls in times of crisis.

But since the SDF law only allows for troops, not civilians, to be deployed to potential combat zones, the government apparently launched the plan to recruit private seamen as MSDF reservists.

Such a need may arise if foreign troops occupy remote islands in the broad area that comprises the Nansei Island chain, stretching southwest from Kyushu and including Okinawa and the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea at the heart of bilateral tensions with China.

But designating private sailors as MSDF reservists will “effectively be conscription” and is unacceptable, the seamen’s union said. It vowed to do everything it can to avoid such a situation.

Meanwhile, China approved a plan last June requiring civilian shipbuilders to ensure that new ships can be used by the military during emergencies.

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