Coast guard sees drop in career officer applications

Courtesy of the Japan Coast Guard
The Japan Coast Guard Academy’s training ship departs for ocean navigation training on June 8.

It is less popular than it once was to pursue an executive position at the Japan Coast Guard. This year, 368 people applied for the Japan Coast Guard Academy (JCGA), half the number of eight years ago.

The trend has caused a sense of crisis within the JCG, which has also been urged to beef up its structure to cope with growing tensions in the waters around Japan.

Social media

“I trained to rescue a drowning person.” “I’m going to be a cool coast guard officer.”

These messages were written by newly hired JCG staff and posted on the coast guard’s Twitter account, along with a photo of a person being pulled into a rubber raft in the ocean.

The JCG launched a Twitter account dedicated to recruitment in July last year, and this July began tweeting rookie’s diaries of their training and duties, aiming to attract would-be personnel. It has so far posted six installments.

“Students actually come to our career open house sessions after looking at our Twitter account. We’re getting a good response,” an official in charge said.

Courtesy of the Japan Coast Guard
The Japan Coast Guard Academy’s entrance ceremony in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, in April 2018.

Lack of publicity

Worry about securing enough career officers has driven the JCG to boost recruitment.

The coast guard provides two academic courses: the JCG School in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, which trains general JCG personnel, and the JCGA in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, which nurtures career officers.

The JCGA is a four-year course for high school graduates, teaching English, oceanography and laws such as the Criminal Procedure Code and the international law of the sea, along with off-shore training. Through on-shore and off-shore duties, JCGA graduates pursue careers in senior posts such as captains of large patrol vessels, JCG section chiefs and heads of District Maritime Safety Headquarters. The graduates account for about 10% of all 14,427 JCG members.

The number of applicants to the JCG School, which commences every April, has remained unchanged at around 3,000 per year, but the number of applicants to the JCGA has decreased significantly.

In the past decade, the number of applicants for the JCGA’s regular course peaked at 727 in fiscal 2013 and then began declining, continuing to reach record-lows since fiscal 2018.

This fiscal year, the number fell to 368, down 72 from the previous year. It was also the first time the number fell below 400. Although the number has not fallen below the quota of about 60, it cannot be denied that the drop in JCGA applicants has been greater.

In the early 2000s, there was an increase in the number of applicants, thanks partly to the popularity of “Umizaru,” a manga featuring JCG divers.

“That manga is old now,” a senior JCG officer said. “A growing preference among young people to settle in regional areas and a lack of publicity for the JCG may be causing the decline. Given the declining birth rate, the future is uncertain. A lag in competitiveness will affect the quality of personnel.”

The central government plans to strengthen the JCG’s structure so that it can cope with Chinese patrol boats sailing in waters around the Senkaku Islands and illegal fishing by foreign boats in the bountiful Yamatotai fishing grounds off the Noto Peninsula. The budget for the next fiscal year is expected to include the costs of building four large patrol boats and installing one unmanned aircraft.

“There is no recognition that the situation is OK as it is,” JCG Commandant Takahiro Okushima said at a regular press conference on Oct. 20. “Securing students is the basis for strengthening the coast guard system. We will implement measures across the board.”