Existence of 2 more Border Islets cannot be Confirmed

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Two remote border islands in Japan that serve as reference points to determine the nation’s territorial waters may not exist anymore, it has been learned.

The government is carefully examining this issue as it could affect the boundaries of Japan’s territorial waters, according to sources.

The two islets, Seppu-Minami-Kojima and Shiokubi-Misaki-Minami-Kojima, are located in waters off Hokkaido and used to be about hundred square meters each, according to sources.

But the existence of the islets cannot be confirmed with satellite photos, a problem that has been reported with other remote border islands, of which there are more than 480 in Japan.

Seppu-Minami-Kojima, located about 220 meters off the coast of the town of Niikappu in southern Hokkaido, might have disappeared because of changes in topography caused by a powerful earthquake in 2018.

Shiokubi-Misaki-Minami-Kojima, about 100 meters off the coast of Hakodate, is believed to have disappeared when work was carried out on a mainland embankment facing the islet.

Remote border islands serve as reference points to determine Japan’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. Territorial waters extend up to about 22 kilometers from a country’s coastline, while the EEZ extends up to about 370 kilometers.

As of the end of last year, there were 484 such islands nationwide, some of which are inhabited. The government had completed the procedures of nationalizing and officially naming the islands by 2017, with the aim of securing maritime rights and safeguarding the nation’s territory. The islands are also mentioned on the official map compiled by the Geospatial Information Authority of Japan (GSI).

As the existence of several islets cannot be confirmed with satellite photos and other reference material, the Japan Coast Guard, GSI and other relevant agencies have been conducting studies.

According to government sources, as of the end of last year, the existence of eight islands could not be confirmed, including the two islets and one in the Sea of Okhotsk off the village of Sarufutsu, also in Hokkaido, Esanbe-Hanakita-Kojima, which might have broken apart through erosion by waves and ice floes.

The other five cannot be found at the locations indicated on the GSI map. However, it is thought that the accurate locations of the five isles might be different from those indicated on maps as unidentified areas that might be islets have been seen in nearby waters.

The JCG and the GSI will verify the locations of the islands using aircraft and other means to determine if the official map should be modified.

The government will create a database of border islands to strengthen the monitoring system because of the difficulty in conducting regular checks.

It also plans to submit to the current ordinary Diet session a bill on a new law to tighten regulations on transactions of land on border islands, with an eye on such issues as acquisitions of such land using foreign capital.

“We would like to exercise all possible caution in confirming [the existence of the border islands in question] because it affects the scope of the nation’s territorial waters,” a Cabinet Office official said.