Japan set to pass anti-piracy bill

Japan’s lower house of parliament passed a bill on Thursday to expand its anti-piracy activities off the coast of Somalia, as donors met in Brussels to tackle the chaos underlying the rising tide of attacks in the region.
The new law will allow Japanese forces to protect non-Japanese ships and broaden the scope for using weapons beyond self-defence, a difficult issue under Japan’s pacifist constitution, Reuters notes.
“These questions of order and security are extremely important for Japan, and the international community is expecting us to make an increased contribution,” Prime Minister Taro Aso told a parliamentary committee. “I believe we have a duty to live up to that.”
Japan dispatched two destroyers equipped with helicopters to the Gulf of Aden last month to escort commercial vessels that are owned or operated by Japanese corporations, or carrying Japanese goods. Two Japanese intelligence-gathering planes are set to join the mission, probably next month.
Japanese vessels have already gone beyond their current remit by aiding three foreign ships, media say.
But international military efforts, which include forces from NATO, the United States, China and South Korea have not succeeded in stamping out the hijackings. Incidents of piracy doubled to 102 in the first three months of 2009 from 52 in the same period last year.
The opposition-dominated upper house of parliament is set to reject the bill, but will do so without delay, media reports say, allowing the government to push it through by passing it a second time in the lower house.
Resource-poor Japan imports more than 80 percent of its crude oil from the Middle East, much of which is shipped through the waters now at risk from piracy.