, TOKYO, May 15 – Japan will dispatch two patrol aircraft and about 150 military personnel in coming weeks to beef up its anti-piracy mission off Somalia, the defence minister said Friday.
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 in the Gulf of Aden near the Suez Canal.
"I gave the order today to dispatch the two P3C patrol aircraft, which will make Japan’s maritime defence more effective," said Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada, adding that the about 2,000 Japanese ships cross the sea area every year.
The two P3C maritime surveillance aircraft will be based in neighboring Djibouti with about 150 crew, engineers and security personnel and are expected to start patrol missions next month.
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.
A government-sponsored bill now being considered by the legislature would widen the scope of force the military can use against pirates and allow them also 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 in which its armed forces could see combat for the first time since World War II.
Japan’s major past overseas military missions — including in Iraq, around Afghanistan, and as UN peacekeepers — have been largely for logistical and support purposes such as refuelling, transport and reconstruction.