Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said Thursday that the government is considering dispatching a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer to waters off Somalia to protect Japanese ships from increasing piracy activities.
If realized, it would be the first such dispatch overseas on policing activities in the sea under the Self-Defense Forces Law.
A growing number of nations are sending navy ships to fight pirates near the lawless East African country, with Japan's neighbor and sometime rival China set to dispatch three vessels on Friday.
"Japan has to deal quickly with this issue," Kawamura told a news conference.
But Japan has legal problems with sending warships because of its pacifist post-World War II constitution. Under domestic laws, the navy can only protect ships flying the Japanese flag or carrying Japanese nationals.
"Are the current laws appropriate for a mission like this?" Kawamura said.
"The laws stipulate that, as a general rule, Japanese (military) ships can operate within our territorial waters. But is that OK when we are discussing cooperation with the international community?" he said.
Kawamura said ruling bloc lawmakers will study changes in legislation.
The Mainichi Shimbun, quoting unnamed sources, said that Prime Minister Taro Aso may announce a decision on an operation by the end of the year.
The U.N. Security Council has given nations a one-year mandate to act inside Somalia to stop the rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden, part of the Suez Canal route from Europe to Asia.
Some shipping companies have chosen to travel around Africa, a longer and more expensive route, to avoid the increasingly brazen pirate attacks.
Japanese forces have not fired a shot in combat since World War II. But the country has tried to take on a larger role in international security, notably through a reconstruction mission in Iraq.© Wire reports