, TOKYO, May 28 – Japan on Thursday dispatched two maritime surveillance aircraft and scores of military personnel to beef up its anti-piracy mission off Somalia, defence ministry officials said.
Tokyo in March sent two destroyers with a total of 400 crew to join the United States, China and other countries in the operation against pirates who have attacked ships off the coast of the east African nation.
The two P3C patrol aircraft are expected to make Japan’s anti-piracy mission more effective by offering aerial information on suspect vessels. Flights are expected to start next month, defence officials said.
The aircraft will be based in neighbouring Djibouti with about 150 crew, engineers and security personnel taking part in the mission to help protect thousands of Japanese ships using the busy waters.
Under Japan’s post-World War II pacifist constitution, its military can only use force in self-defence to protect Japanese nationals, ships and cargo.
"This is the first time P3C are dispatched abroad on a real mission other than drills," a defence ministry spokesman said, adding that the aircraft will also offer information to foreign naval forces.
A government-sponsored bill being considered by Japanese lawmakers would give the military more options against pirates and allow them to protect foreign-flagged ships.
The bill was approved by the lower house last month and is expected to become law by mid-July despite resistance in the opposition-controlled upper house, where some lawmakers worry about a greater military role for Japan.
The operation off Somalia is an unprecedented mission abroad for Japan, which could see its armed forces in combat for the first time since World War II.
Japan’s major past overseas military missions — including in Iraq, near Afghanistan, and as UN peacekeepers — have focused on logistical and support purposes such as refuelling, transport and reconstruction.