Interview: Shuichi Iwanami, Commandant, Japan Coast Guard
As the Japan Coast Guard celebrates its 70th anniversary, Maritime Reporter & Engineering News offers insights on the current status and future direction of the JCG courtesy of an interview with Shuichi Iwanami, Commandant, Japan Coast Guard.
*Note: At the time this interview was conducted, Shuichi Iwanami was still Vice Commandant for Operations.
Could you please tell us the history and future development of the Japan Coast Guard (JCG)?
The JCG, in 2018 celebrates the 70th anniversary of its foundation. When it was founded, the Japanese waters were in an eclipse period. Lighthouses were destroyed during World War II, while many ships that had been sunk with sea mines were left unsalvaged. Numerous maritime crimes including Illegal migration and smuggling had been committed everywhere. In such times, the JCG set about on a mission of reconstructing Japan. All service members have since started to work together to tackle those issues which attracted national and international attentions.
The world is in the midst of turbulent times now, as represented by drastic changes in international political environment, increasingly serious natural disasters and among others, the developments of situations in North Korea. As such, Japanese territorial waters have been subjected to ever difficult situations. Under such circumstances though, the JCG is determined to continue to work restlessly to appropriately address these situations and hand over a safe and orderly ocean to future generations.
Could you please tell us what the JCG is focusing on now?
The environment surrounding Japanese territorial waters is becoming ever more of a challenge with, among others, Chinese Government ships invading the sea areas of Senkaku Islands, North Korean illegal fishing vessels operating around Yamato Bank in the Sea of Japan and numerous wooden boats which are believed to come from Korean Peninsula drifting and casting ashore. To deal with such issues appropriately, it is urgently needed to enhance three capacities of the JCG. They are; maritime law enforcement, maritime situational awareness and oceanographic research capabilities. As such, the Governmental Policy was approved in December 2016 by the Ministerial Council to strengthen the service capabilities of Japan Coast Guard. In December 2017, the Council further agreed that the promotion of the JCG service capabilities enhancement be continued and confirmed that it is necessary to foster international cooperation to maintain free and open maritime order based on the rule of law.
The 3rd Basic Plan on Ocean Policy approved in May 2018 by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet explicitly stipulates that Japan will constantly strengthen the Coast Guard system and, to detect national security threats immediately, upgrade its Marine Domain Awareness (MDA) capability. The JGC will, in accordance with these policies, continue to work to keep up with changes of the time, and reinforce its systems and capabilities steadily, while carefully examining the priorities of implementation.
Meanwhile, JCG will continue to enhance the safety at sea in accordance with the ‘4th Marine Traffic Vision’, the maritime traffic safety policy formulated in April 2018 and promote the integration and public dissemination of information on activities at sea. Development of modern technologies including the VHF Data Exchanging System (VDES), will also be continued.
Could you tell us what shipbuilding plans (ship types and sizes) the JCG has on the table now?
The Government of Japan approved the Policy on Strengthening the Coast Guard Capabilities at the Ministerial Council on Dec. 21 2016. In accordance with this Policy, the JCG has been advancing its efforts to enhance its systems and capabilities, including the acquisition of additional PLH and HL fleet.
What do you think is important in cultivating human resources under your command?
As the situation surrounding Japanese territorial waters remains tough, the JCG is required to play a wide variety of roles, indicating that its duties are getting ever more diversified, complicated and internationalized. To address these trends, the Policy on Strengthening the Coast Guard Capabilities was adopted in December 2016 by the Ministerial Council. Based on the Policy, we are steadily beefing up the surface and air fleet. Reinforcement other service infrastructures, including human resource development, is another important mainstay to be urgently implemented.
Automation and autonomy have been advancing among commercial vessels. What actions is the JCG taking to raise efficiency and ensure safety, among others, through automation?
In ship autonomy and automation, I understand that various maritime sectors—such as shipping, shipbuilding and ship machinery and equipment manufacturing—are increasingly interested in maritime autonomy from a viewpoint of safety, efficiency and productivity. The JCG has already introduced remote control vehicles and other technologies in oceanographic surveys and so on.
Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) are capable of collecting precise topography data by sailing underwater on the programmed routes close to the sea bottom and autonomously conducting surveys. An AUV was set to service operation in fiscal 2013. It has since been helping us improve our oceanographic research capacity for protecting Japan’s maritime interests.
In fiscal 2016, autonomous ocean vehicles (AOVs) made their debut. They can operate by the power of waves and are able to conduct unmanned oceanographic observations for a long period of time, depending solely on solar energy. Through the continuous and long-term meteorological and hydrographic observations by AOVs, we can not only upgrade our basic information on the safety of ship operations, but also can obtain the long-term observation data we need to enrich low-water mark (LWM) information in order.
The JCG held a workshop in May 2018, inviting experts in the operation of autonomous ships to commence discussing what measures are needed to be taken to address the changes in operational environments of the emerging autonomous surface vessels.
At a time when safety at sea is becoming more and more important, what does the JCG give importance to regarding cyber security? What measures do you implement to protect ships and other assets from cyber attacks?
First, we give importance to ensuring IT security for our network system from the threat of cyber attacks so that we can always appropriately fulfill our duties. Second, the measures we have taken include isolating the main service system that we use for day to day business routines from the internet to keep it from being attacked from outside. For security reasons, I should refrain from making any more comments on this matter.
Could you please tell us what is the top priority for the JCG?
We endeavor to detect as soon as possible phenomena that could develop into situations having major impacts on safety and security at sea as well as the security of our country, and to maintain a system so that we can take necessary actions immediately. If any such situations took place by any chance, in order to prevent them from worsening further and to prevent the impact from growing, we try to share information and cooperate with relevant organizations to take efficient and effective actions.
Looking ahead 20 years from now, how will the JCG do with its fleet? Please tell us long-term prospects.
I believe that it is important to continue to enhance our systems and capabilities steadily, while keeping up with changes of situations of the time. We will therefore seek to implement all possible measures to protect Japan’s territories and territorial waters and to ensure the safety and security of Japanese nationals.
In accordance with the Policy on Strengthening the Coast Guard Capabilities approved in December 2016 by the Ministerial Council, we have decided to reinforce our systems and capabilities for conducting oceanographic surveys by means of acquiring additional large survey ships and other efforts.
Looking back at the history of the JCG, what do you count as two or three of its greatest successes?
The Spy boat case in the Southwestern sea of Kyushu. As an example of success in taking actions against major incidents, I can first of all count the case where JCG encountered the spy boat crisis in the southwestern sea of Kyushu in December 2001. In the incident, a fishing boat of unidentified nationality was spotted in the Japanese EEZ in the southwestern sea of Kyushu. Refusing our halt orders, the boat attempted to escape and JCG launched a chase and tried to stop it by firing warning gun shots and taking other actions. However, as the fleeing boat returned the gun and missile fire, we started the self-defense counter-attack firing. While we were doing so, the boat detonated itself and sank. As the result of half a year salvaging work, the boat was identified as a spy boat of North Korea, which possibly had engaged in the illegal drug smuggling. In the incident, I believe we disclosed the nature of North Korea’s spy activities through this law-enforcement operations and could make a great success of deterring subsequent similar activities.
Partnerships and cooperation with Coast Guards of other economies: Since around 2000, the JCG has been working hard to provide assistance to the maritime security organizations of coastal countries in Southeast Asia and other regions so that they can enhance their respective capabilities. We have also been focusing on partnership and cooperation enhancements among Coast Guards through the Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting (HACGAM), etc. In the meantime, maritime security bodies have been newly established in many economies, while the number of attendees at the HACGAM has been increasing every year. Partnerships and cooperation among those governments have grown notably in terms of actions against international crimes, maritime accidents and disasters, etc.
Looking back on your career at the JCG, could you please tell us what has been the most influential moment?
One of the most impressive things that I have experienced is the emergency medical transport case on Feb. 28 1990 in which a severely scalded child from Sakhalin, former USSR. In Sakhalin, an infant suffered a serious scald by hot water spilled on his entire body. As it was beyond help of the local medical institutions, the infant’s mother asked a Japanese businessman who happened to be in the city on business for medical treatment in Japan. As the Cold War was still on continue, it was worried that if JCG airplane flew near the border airspace of Sakhalin, it could be intercepted by scrambled Soviet fighter jets. On the following day, at a request from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, a JCG plane crossed the border between Japan and USSR for the first time since the end of World War II and landed at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Airport to race the child to Hokkaido. Because of all-out efforts made in Japan, the boy successfully came out of the jaws of death.
I was in charge of coordinating this emergency medical transport operations when I was young. I leaned what was believed impossible could become possible if we held passion and many people helped us.
Could you please tell us what you think has not changed and what has changed greatly over the last 20 years?
We are facing more and more cases having major impacts not only on safety and security at sea, but also on national security as well as regional peace and stability. They include foreign government vessels invading Japan’s territorial waters; growing number of foreign ships conducting marine surveys; foreign fishing boats illegally fishing in Japanese EEZs and drifting/casting ashore: and pirates/ armed robberies/terrorist organizations acting ever more extensively.
To deal with such threats, Japan’s maritime security system has been strengthened in the last 20 years. The number of JCG staff members has increased from approximately 12,200 to 14,000; patrol vessels, from 354 to 372; and aircraft, from 69 to 83. In addition, information and communication devices, weapons and other outfits have been upgraded in quality, while legislation has also been developed for law enforcement at sea.
Over the last 20 years, maritime security organizations have been established and reinforced in many Asian economies. In order to support them, we have been providing assistance so that they can enhance their capacities, while partnerships and cooperation with them are promoted in rapid manner.
In contrast, the JCG has upheld the spirit of ‘justice and humanity’ since it was established, which means never to tolerate illegal activities, but will do its utmost to save lives and provide humanitarian assistance to people regardless of nationality. This sprit has been inherited by all JCG service members.
Japan Coast Guard By the Numbers
As of April 2018, the JCG surface fleet consists of 457 vessels as below:
Types of ships/Number
PLH (patrol vessels, large,
with helicopters) 14
PL (patrol vessels, large) 48
PM (patrol vessels, medium) 38
PS (patrol vessels, small) 33
FL (firefighting boats, large) 1
PC (patrol craft) 69
CL (craft, large) 169
HL/HS (hydrographic survey) 13
LM/LS (Aids to Navigation
service vessels) 6
The JCG has 6,187 maritime service members, 225 of whom are women.