Shigeki Tao / Yomiuri Shimbun Correspondent
DJIBOUTI–A Self-Defense Forces base established to boost Japan’s contribution to fighting piracy in waters off Somalia was officially opened at a ceremony Thursday.
Set up in June, the base in Djibouti city is the first full-fledged overseas SDF base equipped with a maintenance hangar for P-3C patrol aircraft.
The government hopes the base will play a key role in international cooperation for peace in the Middle East and Africa. The base, located north of Djibouti-Ambouli Airport, has a command headquarters, accommodation for SDF personnel, a dining hall, gym and bath house, and cost about 4.7 billion yen to construct.
As part of the SDF’s antipiracy activities, two SDF vessels have been providing escorts to commercial ships and P-3C airplanes have conducted patrols since 2009.
The SDF formerly used a U.S. base located south of the airport as its operational base. The new base will enable SDF personnel to be based in Djibouti for longer periods.
When SDF units previously served in Iraq, Cambodia and other nations for periods of one to three years, the SDF developed infrastructure for its own bases. However, the SDF base in Djibouti uses the existing local water and electricity supply.
Thursday’s ceremony was attended by about 350 people, including Djibouti Prime Minister Dileita Mohamed Dileita.
Deputy Defense Minister Katsuya Ogawa said at the ceremony, “Establishing the new base reflects our government’s strong intention to address antipiracy issues.”
The SDF will rotate personnel stationed in Djibouti every three to four months. At the Djibouti base there are now 180 personnel, including people in charge of security, cooking and other duties.
Chief Petty Officer Kazuhiko Saikami, 45, a member of the P-3C patrol crew who has been working in the country since June, said: “We feel tense during flights. But we can relax here at the base, eating Japanese dishes and taking a bath.”
The number of piracy incidents off Somalia totaled a record-high 219 last year. So far this year, 164 incidents have been reported, exceeding the pace of last year. However, ships escorted by the SDF have not been involved in any incidents.