In January 2021, a Japan Coast Guard (JCG) patrol vessel used exclusively for operations around the Senkaku Islands was patrolling the territorial waters around the Senkakus when it broke down and became inoperable for some time. Sankei obtained this information from a JCG insider on March 21. The reason for the failure is thought to be deterioration due to age. China Coast Guard patrol vessels have been repeatedly intruding into the territorial waters around the Senkakus. China has stepped up its actions to overturn Japan’s effective control of the Senkakus, such as the February 2021 enforcement of the coast guard law, which allows the China Coast Guard to use weapons. There is a pressing need to take such measures as updating equipment.
It is unheard of for a patrol vessel to become inoperable while in the midst of patrolling territorial waters around the Senkakus. The vessel that broke down was the Uruma, a helicopter-capable patrol vessel affiliated with the Naha Coast Guard Office.
The Uruma was one of 12 JCG vessels whose sole mission is to patrol the Senkakus. Two of the 12 vessels were deployed to the Naha Coast Guard Office, and the rest were deployed to the Ishigaki Coast Guard Office. The 10 vessels (1,000-ton model) with the Ishigaki Coast Guard Office were built between 2016 and 2018. One of the vessels affiliated with Naha was built in 2000. Uruma, the other Naha vessel, was completed in 1980 and is the oldest vessel of the 12.
The Uruma is one of the oldest of the JCG’s approximately 140 patrol boats. It underwent renovations in 2013 and 2014 to enable it to be used for the long term. It is now over 40 years old, however.
While sailing around the Senkakus in late January 2021, part of the Uruma’s power generator, from which it obtains electrical power, broke down and the vessel became inoperable. The fuel tank, which powers the generator, was confirmed to be contaminated with a large amount of seawater. Because using fuel mixed with seawater can cause the engine to stop, the vessel’s engine had to be shut down for a while.
At the time, the Uruma and several other vessels were monitoring for intrusions by China Coast Guard vessels into territorial waters. Later, the crew conducted repair work so that the Uruma was able to move under its own power. The Uruma left the scene and another patrol vessel took its place.
In patrolling the territorial waters around the Senkakus, the JCG is thought to deploy one patrol vessel per China Coast Guard vessel, while at the same time having several patrol vessels in the surrounding waters. The JCG insider says that the JCG “responds with more ships than the Chinese side, but each patrol vessel has its own role.” The insider expressed concern, saying that “if one ship were lost, it would give the Chinese side an opening.” (Slightly abridged)