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HOME  > Past issues  > 2020 January 29 - February 4  > Safe navigation of civilian vessels in Middle East secured only by diplomatic efforts: Expert
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2020 January 29 - February 4 [POLITICS]

Safe navigation of civilian vessels in Middle East secured only by diplomatic efforts: Expert

February 2, 2020
At a time when the government led by Prime Minister Abe is pushing forward with the dispatch of Self-Defense Forces to the Middle East in the name of conducting information-gathering activities, Akahata on February 2 carried an interview with the former head of the Transport Minsitry’s Maritime Accident Tribunal Kato Shohei. He talked about his experience working to secure the safety of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 and about the SDF dispatch to the region this time.

Followings are excerpts of his interview:

In the Iran-Iraq War which began in September 1980, there was an incident in which a Japanese civilian was killed in a missile attack. With this incident, it was clear that the navigation of oil tankers in the region was always filled with tension.

Oil tankers, also known as very large crude oil carriers (VLCCs), have lengths of about 330 meters with widths of about 60 meters and drafts of about 28 meters and usually move nearly 300,000 metric tons of oil. These vessels are unable to make an emergency stop. Their maximum attainable speed is about 15 knots. Thus, if targeted by warships, which have a top speed of more than 30 knots, it is impossible for VLCCs to escape.

Explaining the dispatch of SDF units to the Middle East under the ongoing U.S.-Iran crisis, the Abe government said that the dispatched SDF units will conduct “research and survey” activities in international waters near the Gulf of Oman with the aim of securing the safety of Japan-related civilian ships. However, information collected by the SDF in distant sea areas will be useless for non-military Japanese ships even if it is given to them before entering the Hormuz Strait.

As the Persian Gulf, which is on the east side of the Hormuz Strait, has many shallows and small islands, VLCCs and other large ships have a limited choice of shipping lanes. They also have difficulties in moving quickly. So, even if they receive from the SDF information regarding a possible attack, there would be nothing they can do. One-on-one escorts by SDF warships of commercial ships would be somewhat useful but unrealistic.

The safe navigation of civilian ships will never be secured unless the current conflict is resolved. The Japanese government should proactively make diplomatic efforts to urge all parties concerned, especially the United States, to exercise self-restraint.

Past related articles:
> Shii in Diet questioning criticizes Abe’s stance toward Middle East crisis [January 24, 2020]
> Article 9 protection activists oppose MSDF dispatch to Middle East [January 9, 2020]
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