Japan coast guard to deepen surveillance capabilities on Okinawa island

Japan took over three of the five main Senkaku or Diaoyu islands from private Japanese owners in September 2012 in a move that angered China.

TOKYO - Japan's Coast Guard will strengthen its training system for officers stationed on an island in southern Okinawa Prefecture that is used as a base for defending the waters around the disputed Senkaku Islands, sources said.

Sources told The Yomiuri Shimbun the coast guard plans to set up its first shooting range in Miyakojima island, where the defence base for the Senkaku Islands is located, the paper reported on Sunday (Sept 17).

The Senkaku Islands are controlled by Tokyo but are also claimed by China, which refers to them as the Diaoyu Islands.

The report said the coast guard believes that improving the capabilities of its Miyakojima officers is a top priority. Sources said the coast guard also plans to conduct training simulations for detaining the crews of Chinese fishing boats who have intruded into Japan's territorial waters.

Japan took over three of the five main Senkaku or Diaoyu islands from private Japanese owners in September 2012 in a move that angered China.

The coast guard says an increasing number of Chinese fishing boats and Chinese government vessels have entered Japanese territorial waters around the Senkakus since their nationalisation in 2012.

The number of coast guard warnings against intruding Chinese fishing boats fell in 2015 but rose again last year to 104, the Yomiuri Shimbun said. In August last year, as many as 15 Chinese government vessels and 200 to 300 fishing boats entered waters near the disputed islands.

To manage the situation, the coast guard upgraded the status of its Miyako coast guard station to an office in October last year. The number of coast guard employees on Miyakojima has since grown to about 180 currently from 55 in fiscal 2015. The coast guard intends to boost that number to roughly 230 by the end of fiscal 2018.

The coast guard currently has shooting ranges at only three locations, all located in Honshu.

While police shooting facilities can be used, the coast guard believes that setting up its own shooting range on Miyakojima, where many of its officers are stationed, will allow for more effective and intensive training. As such, the coast guard has requested 250 million yen (S$3 million) for related costs for fiscal 2018.

There are also plans to build the shooting range on a 700 sq m site on the island's eastern end, where a coast guard facility once stood.

The coast guard has will also increase its number of patrol vessels to 12 by fiscal 2018. There were only three such vessels when the Miyakojima office was a coast guard station.

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