Japan's Cabinet approved Friday a one-year extension of a Maritime Self-Defense Force mission to the Middle East for intelligence-gathering activities to help ensure the safety of a key oil shipping lane.
The government decided to extend the mission through Dec. 26, 2021, as tensions remain high in the Middle East and continued efforts are needed to ensure the safety of Japan-related commercial shipping passing through regional waters.
The MSDF's first long-term intelligence-gathering mission, approved by the Cabinet in December last year, kicked off in January amid increased tensions between the United States and Iran, with Washington blaming Tehran for a series of attacks on oil tankers.
The MSDF has so far not identified any unusual occurrences regarding Japan-related ships in the regional waters, the Defense Ministry said.
"Although there is no immediate need for protection of Japan-related vessels, the conflict between the United States and Iran remains unchanged," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference.
"Shipping industry groups have expressed their further expectations and appreciation for the SDF activities," Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told a separate news conference.
Although Japan has not joined a U.S.-led coalition guarding ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz to avoid hurting its friendly ties with Iran, Tokyo has sent two P-3C patrol planes and helicopter-carrying destroyers to the region as the country relies on the Middle East for over 90 percent of its crude oil.
Around 260 MSDF personnel have been deployed in rotation for the mission in the Gulf of Oman, the northern part of the Arabian Sea, and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.