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Japan Coast Guard provides know-how to Asian countries to enhance sea security

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A member of the Japan Coast Guard’s Mobile Cooperation Team holds an online lecture with Indonesian Maritime Security Agency officials on Jan. 25.

The Japan Coast Guard is providing technical guidance to coast guards in Asian countries to improve their security response capabilities in the face of frequent piracy and rising tensions in the South China Sea, and to ensure the stability of Japan’s sea lanes.

The JCG’s Mobile Cooperation Team (MCT), which provides guidance in maritime rescue and policing, is now in its fifth year of operation and has been dispatched to 14 countries so far.

During a videoconference in January with officials of the Indonesian Maritime Security Agency, Kentaro Furuya, 51, a professor at the Japan Coast Guard Academy, posed a question. “How do you respond when you find a foreign vessel suspected of committing a criminal offense in your Exclusive Economic Zone?”

The subject of the MCT’s online lecture that day was the jurisdiction of coastal states and ship-registration countries in territorial waters and EEZs. Participants asked questions about specific issues such as how to deal with China’s construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea or Chinese fishing boats operating in Indonesia’s EEZ under the protection of Chinese public vessels.

The lecture lasted about 30 minutes longer than the scheduled two hours.

Launched in October 2017, the MCT’s objective is to provide support to improve the capabilities of overseas coast guards. There are 13 full-time staff members, and they give guidance not only in accident response, such as maritime rescue and oil-spill cleanups, but also in vessel inspection, crime control and other areas.

An oil-spill drill is held in Sri Lanka in February.
Courtesy of the Japan Coast Guard

By the end of March 2020, the MCT had dispatched staff to 14 countries on 51 occasions. Although the MCT introduced online lectures due to the coronavirus pandemic, the team resumed dispatching in January for the first time in two years, and provided guidance in Djibouti and Sri Lanka.

■Establishment of maritime agencies

The MCT was launched because coast guards have been created in Asian countries since the late 1990s. Such agencies were established in the Philippines in 1998, Malaysia in 2005, Vietnam in 2013 and Indonesia followed in 2014.

One of the reasons is the increase in illegal activities at sea, such as piracy and poaching, which have accompanied greater economic activity in Asia. Concerns about growing friction due to China’s repeated unilateral claims of territorial sovereignty and interests in the South China Sea are also said to be a contributing factor.

Against this backdrop, the JCG, which has accumulated expertise in maritime security since its establishment in 1948, has seen an increase in requests from Asian countries for assistance and formed the team dedicated to providing support.

■Precautions against China, Russia

Improving the maritime security capabilities of each country via MCT activities helps stabilize seafaring, which is vital for Japan’s trade.

Another goal of the MCT is to promote shared values regarding the maritime order. In the waters surrounding Japan, China Coast Guard vessels have repeatedly trespassed in the territorial waters off the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, and illegal fishing by North Korean and Chinese fishers has become a problem in the Yamatotai bank area, bountiful fishing grounds off the Noto Peninsula. In addition, the worsening situation in Ukraine has heightened the sense of alarm over Russia’s capture of Japanese fishing vessels.

“We’d like to deepen cooperation with other countries to maintain and strengthen the maritime order,” said Japan Coast Guard Commandant Takahiro Okushima.