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international pirates, Somali pirates
Michel Euler/AP
Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso

Japan Joins International Anti-Piracy Efforts

March 16, 2009 12:29 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Two Japanese ships have embarked on an anti-piracy mission, marking the first time the country has made an effort to combat Somali pirates.

Japan Sends Two Destroyers to Waters off Somalia

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Japan's constitution requires the country's military to only be used in self-defense but after the release of a Japanese cargo ship that was captured by Somali pirates in November 2008, the Japanese Cabinet has approved a mission that will send two destroyers to monitor the waters off Somalia. 

The two ships will be manned by the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF), and their primary role vessels will be to "escort" Japanese boats through dangerous waters, CNN reported. They will only be permitted to fire at pirates if they are attacked. But the goverment has also submitted an anti-piracy bill to the Diet, the Japanese parliament, requesting more resources and freedom to step up the fight against pirates.

Somalian pirates finally released the Japanese ship MT Chemstar Venus in February 2009. The final negotiations involved a ransom delivered by a tugboat, China Daily reported.

Background: The international movement against pirates

The capture of nine piracy suspects in October 2007 encouraged the United Nations to announce a multi-national flotilla of vessels that would move into waters off Somalia to fight and capture pirates.

Unfortunately, the flotilla and private security efforts failed to halt the pirates from capturing their largest treasure: a Saudi oil tanker the size of six football fields and worth over $100 million.

This lucrative bounty appears to have attracted al-Shabab—a militant Somali group designated a terrorist organization just months earlier—which pledged to fight the pirates and recapture the ship.

Hesitant to risk both their cargo and the lives of their crews, most companies have been quick to pay off the pirates, while some have turned to the aid of private companies in hopes of offering the protection the international community had so far been unable to provide.

The United States introduced a resolution to the UN Security Council that would allow those in pursuit of pirates to follow them into their hideouts, located within Somali territory.

An agreement to try those pirates captured at sea in an official court setting in Kenya provides a replacement for Somalia’s current, inactive judicial system. The first group of pirates was officially charged in a courtroom in Mombasa, Kenya, in December 2008, after a push from the British government led to the country hosting the proceedings.

While further actions were delayed until January, the introduction of law into a previously lawless situation gave some hope that the pirates might finally face justice.

The legal system applied to the Somali pirates was a point of contention as their actions affected victims and ships from so many different nations, few of which were able to agree on the judicial guidelines they should face if captured.

Out on the high seas, ships have grown increasingly confident and successful in their efforts to stave off attacks, while offensive measures have proven to be equally effective.

With the exception of an Indian naval attack on a ship that turned out to be an occupied Thai fishing vessel, foreign navy attacks proved successful in fending off attempts and even capturing 23 pirates earlier in the year.

It remains to be seen whether these new efforts will curb the rise of piracy in the region or simply quell it for the time being. Intelligence services also continue to search for who has been funding the pirates’ efforts.

In November, The Daily Beast’s Gerald Posner cited an internal memo from the U.S. Treasury that traced payments and ransom bank accounts to expat Somalis residing in Dubai, though no firm proof of the connection has been offered to the public.

The subject of media scrutiny from across the map, the pirates have earned headlines and have occasionally found themselves the subject of satire.

Few believe the stark rise in piracy is a laughing matter, however. Columnists, joined by a chorus of Somali residents defending themselves from allegations of aiding or profiting from the pirates’ actions, have declared that this year’s events spotlight the responsibility of the international community to help rebuild Somalia and put an end to the lawlessness that has made such attacks possible.
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