Japanese Navy Opens New Base in Djibouti


The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces (JMSDF) extended their anti-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa coast and opened a naval base in Djibouti to support that mission.

The anti-piracy mission of the  JMSDF, that was scheduled to end by the end of the month, was extended by another year, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reports on 8 July. The Japanese navy was operating out of the US base Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti since 2009 but now has its own base near the airport of the capital Djibouti City.

The Japanese Self Defense Forces are by law only allowed to operate in defense of the country but recently that has been interpreted more liberally than in the past. Japan has built a significant green water navy with the capability to use air power off its two new Hyuga-class and two Shirane-class helicopter destroyers (DDH).

While the ageing Shirane-class is essentially a large destroyer with a flight deck aft, the Hyuga-class ships are 14,000 ts helicopter carriers, primarily used for anti-submarine warfare. The long-term planning includes 22 (!) new DDHs, even larger than the Hyuga. Both classes would – at least in theory – be able to carry fixed-wing aircraft such as the Harrier or F-35B Lightning II.

The Japanese – together with forces from 24 other nations –  are engaged in the Gulf of Aden, Arabic Sea and Gulf of Oman to tackle the rising piracy risk for merchant shipping in the region. Bloomberg reports, that the cost of piracy in the area might rise to 15 billion Dollar per year in 2015!

The British government recently discussed a change in law so UK ships can be legally armed. The UK-based ‘Sea Marshals’ already offer their clients security teams armed with “military-grade weapons”, to protect merchant ships crossing the pirate-infested waters off the Somali coast. The same company also operates five heavily armed escort vessels in order to thwart pirate attacks.

The increase in pirate activity in the area, motivated by a massive raise in ransoms paid, threatens vessels that carry 20 percent of the world trade and ship owners are complaining about the raising cost. A few month ago one of them for the first time wrote on a blog that if the international community does not act in a decisive manner, the shippers might think about avoiding the area altogether and just simply raise freight rates to compensate the costs.

Seems not only Japan is well advised to step up its activities to get rid of the problem once and for all.

(Sources: Bloomberg, JMSDF, GlobalSecurity.org; 14 July 2011)

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About Johann Brandstätter

Photojournalist and documentary photographer based in Bulgaria, working mainly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Conflicts & crises, social and environmental issues, defense & military, travel, transportation.
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