MSDF vessel to join international operation off Somalia

The Japanese government has decided that one of the two Maritime Self-Defense Force antipiracy escort vessels deployed in waters off Somalia will join a combined operation involving the United States and other countries, a government source said Friday.

The government is hoping that the move will demonstrate Japan's international contributions, the source said, adding it will be the first time for an MSDF antipiracy vessel to participate in such an operation.

But observers said such a move would spark public criticism as it could violate the constitutional ban on using force abroad.

The current mission began in March 2009 based on the SDF law and has been conducted under the antipiracy law since it was enacted in June that year. Two MSDF ships have been dispatched to the Gulf of Aden off Somalia to protect commercial vessels of Japan and other countries. The one-year mission has been extended every year since 2010.

But given the sharp fall in piracy attacks in the area, Tokyo is planning for one of the vessels to participate in a large-scale defense operation in the Gulf of Aden that will also include Britain, China and other countries.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet is expected to approve the extension of the vessels' dispatch by a year ahead of the current term's expiration on July 23.

==Kyodo