Piracy prompts Japan to open naval base in Djibouti


Japan is opening its first overseas army base in Djibouti, a small African state strategically located at the southern end of the Red Sea on the Gulf of Aden, to counter rising piracy in the region.

The US$40 million base expected to be completed by early next year will strengthen international efforts to curb hijackings and vessel attacks by hordes of gunmen from the lawless Somalia.

The Djibouti base breaks new ground for Japan, which has had no standing army since World War II and cannot wage war. It, however, has armed forces – the Japan Self-Defence Forces – which were formed at the end of US occupation in 1952.
‘This will be the only Japanese base outside our country and the first in Africa,’ Keizo Kitagawa, Japan’s navy force captain and coordinator of the deployment, said recently.
‘We are deploying here to fight piracy and for our self-defence. Japan is a maritime nation and the increase in piracy in the Gulf of Aden through which 20 000 vessels sail every year is worrying,’ Kitagawa said.

He explained that 10% of the Gulf of Aden’s traffic comes from Japan and 90 per cent of Japanese exports depend on the crucial sea lane that was almost overrun by the marauding pirates two years ago.
‘A camp will be built to house our personnel and material. Currently we are stationed at the American base’.

Since 2008, an international flotilla of warships has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden in a bid to stop the hijackings.
‘The safety of the seas is therefore essential for Japan… the stability of this region will benefit Japan,’ added Kitagawa.

In recent years Somali pirates have attacked or hijacked Japanese vessels traversing the key route.

In 2008, pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades attacked the Takayama, a 150 000-tonne oil tanker, but it was rescued by the German navy.

The previous year, chemical tanker Golden Nori was captured by the ransom- hunting pirates who freed it six weeks later. In February, the MV Apl Finland was saved by the Turkish navy from pirates who tried to clamber aboard.

Japan’s decision was prompted by pressure from the country’s maritime industry.
‘We sent military teams to Yemen, Oman, Kenya and Djibouti. In April 2009, we chose Djibouti,’ Kitagawa said.

The Red Sea state, which is home to the largest overseas French military base and the only US army base in Africa, was picked for its suitable air and sea ports as well as political stability, the official said.

Last April, Japan’s defence ministry announced it was sending two destroyers and surveillance planes to boost the anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden.

The presence of the international navies has forced the Somali pirates to venture southwards in the less-patrolled Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, a 10-nation board approved last Friday US$2.1 million in UN funding for five projects to help Somalia and neighbouring countries prosecute suspected pirates.
‘Piracy off Somalia is a menace to the region and the world,’ said UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe, chair of the board overseeing a new trust fund. ‘Prosecuting suspected pirates is an important piece of the international strategy to combat the problem.’

An international armada of warships has patrolled an area in the north of Somalia in the Gulf of Aden for more than a year in a bid to curb piracy.

But countries that have captured pirates have often struggled to bring them to justice due to legal technicalities.

Four of the projects in line for the funding are designed to support institutions in the Seychelles, which along with Kenya serves as a regional centre to prosecute pirates, as well as in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland state and its breakaway region of Somaliland.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council was expected to approve this week a Russian draft resolution urging a stronger UN mechanism to ensure effective legal action against pirates caught off Somalia’s shores.

The text would direct UN chief Ban Ki-moon ‘within three months to prepare a report outlining various options of a stronger international legal system’ to deal with the pirates.

Pic: Japanese navy

Sources: www.somalilandpress.com and AFP