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Japan Coast Guard seeks to boost response time with new bases for large patrol ships

Kyodo

The Japan Coast Guard is planning to build bases for seven new large patrol ships in a bid to improve response time to incidents — including the frequent intrusions by Chinese vessels into Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, according to a source.

The coast guard is looking at up to four sites — the city of Tsuruga in Fukui Prefecture, the city of Kagoshima, and Okinawa Prefecture’s Ishigaki Island and Miyako Island, the source said. The plan is to start building the bases as early as fiscal 2019 — which starts in April next year — following consultations with local communities.

The Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China, continue to be a source of friction between Tokyo and Beijing. Chinese coast guard vessels have frequently entered Japanese waters around the uninhabited islets as part of China’s claim. The islands are called Diaoyu in China.

The frequent intrusions into territorial waters around the islets began after the Japanese government purchased most of the Senkaku Islands from a private Japanese owner in 2012, putting them under state control.

In recent years, illegal fishing by North Korean vessels in Japan’s territorial waters has also increased. Last year, there was a surge in North Korean fishing boats in the Yamato Bank area of the Sea of Japan. The boats are believed to have been engaging in illegal poaching in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

The source said the coast guard has about 60 large patrol ships weighing more than 1,000 tons, and the biggest is a 6,500-ton helicopter-carrying class vessel.

But current facilities under the coast guard’s jurisdiction are not equipped to accommodate all of the ships. Patrol vessels of that size can berth at only two locations — Yokohama and Ishigaki. For the most part, the coast guard borrows the port facilities of local governments, but space limitations mean only one or two such vessels can be deployed at once.

In the case of Ishigaki, a new base is being planned in addition to the existing facility.

The coast guard saw the need for the new bases to mobilize multiple large patrol vessels simultaneously in different areas. It also plans to set up lodgings for crew members.

The coast guard has allocated ¥300 million in its fiscal 2018 budget to finance the new bases. Costs to build each base are likely to range between ¥1 billion and several tens of billions of yen.

Sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands remains a flash point in Japan-China relations, which otherwise have been showing signs of improvement.

In a new incident last week, a Chinese submarine was observed for the first time in the so-called contiguous zone around the islets. The zone extends to 24 nautical miles, beyond the 12 nautical miles internationally recognized as territorial waters.

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