Heads of Asian Coast Guard Agencies Meeting: Opening Session

Tokyo, Japan

Please allow me to welcome you to Japan, and to this meeting on protecting the safety of Asia’s oceans. I firmly believe that our meeting here today is of the highest importance. The dangers presented by the pirates of today make this meeting as vital to national and regional safety as any international summit.

The latter half of the 1990s saw a large increase in piracy. There were even cases where sailors’ lives were at risk.

It seemed as if pirates had escaped from the world of legend and folklore and suddenly appeared in the present. This sent shockwaves through the maritime industry. At that time, I decided that to combat this trend, we needed to transcend maritime borders. We needed to build a cooperative structure that would enable Asia’s coastguards to share information with each other.

Thus, in 1999 I approached then-Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

I presented him with the idea of establishing a forum for countries that benefit from Asia’s oceans. Here, we could discuss how to secure regional safety through mutual cooperation and shared responsibilities. That year, when Prime Minister Obuchi attended the ASEAN Summit, he proposed an international conference on anti-piracy measures. He unfortunately fell ill before that conference could be realized, but his successor, Yoshiro Mori, continued to push this idea. As a result, in April 2000, Japan hosted the Regional Conference on Combating Piracy.

This meeting had a very concrete effect. In its wake, cooperation between Asian coast guards was so strengthened that large-scale piracy was brought to an end. International syndicates no longer hijacked or robbed ships. Today, we face new problems. Pirates are much better armed. Worse, we now must find something to do about maritime terrorism.

The September 11 attacks in New York shook the world. Following this, anti-terrorist measures were stepped up in all countries.

Even these have not always been enough. In October 2002, the French Tanker Limburg went up in flames off the coast of Yemen. It was the victim of a suicide attack. In our area of the world, a heavily armed group of pirates now operates in Indonesian territorial waters, off the coast of Aceh. This group was recently linked to an international terrorist organization.

The network of cooperation among coast guard agencies has been steadily expanding since the conference was held in 2000. It has proven highly effective in protecting the safety of the Asian seas.

For instance, in March a meeting between piracy experts was held in Thailand. Immediately following that, a group of pirates was arrested. This was a direct result of regional information exchange. Several piracy problems have been resolved through such multilateral cooperation.

My work has taught me, more than anything else, that people from a variety of sectors and organizations need to work together. For example, I have personally been engaged in leprosy elimination work for the past 30 years.

Medical advances have virtually eliminated the disease as a public health problem. However, the social issue of leprosy is far from over. Thus, as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, I continue to travel the world with the aim of eliminating the social discrimination suffered by those affected by the disease.

In my fight, I have found that there are three key points in achieving elimination.

First, political leaders must have determination. Then, we must obtain the cooperation of the media.
Finally, nothing is more important than cooperation between WHO, the World Bank, governments, international organizations, and NGOs.

The same three points apply to the safety of the seas.

The coastguard commandants here today must have a firm resolve to eliminate maritime crime.

We must all work in cooperation with the media and build a society that does not tolerate piracy and maritime terrorism.

We must harness the power of international organizations such as the IMO, IMB and non-governmental organizations like The Nippon Foundation. We must encourage them to work in close cooperation with coast guard agencies.

In recent years, new international conventions on ocean affairs and maritime transport have been drafted by the IMO and related organizations.

Countries are being pressed to live by international rules and regulations, like the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. This is a noble aim. And I firmly believe that to achieve it, that we must first build up our capacity. This can be done most effectively through interpersonal networks.

Unfortunately, it is a fact that Asian countries, including Japan, still lack sufficient human resources. This is especially true when compared with the United States and Europe.

Thus, my organization places a strong emphasis on capacity-building initiatives.

For example, we provide a fellowship program at the World Maritime University in Sweden.

Nearly 300 students from 40 countries have received fellowships to date. These Sasakawa Fellows are making valuable contributions in their fields of study. More importantly, they have created an alumni network for sharing knowledge across international borders.

We have started many new initiatives in this field. Last year, we launched a scholarship program at the International Maritime Law Institute in Malta. We began to support training for specialists in general bathymetric charts of the oceans. We launched a special course at the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans, a scholarship program at the Seafarers International Research Center of Cardiff University, and a fellowship program at the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the UN Office of Legal Affairs.

It is my sincere hope that the people involved in these initiatives will cooperate and share their knowledge, thus aiding in the establishment of a new international order of the seas. It is vital for coast guard authorities in each Asian country to cooperate in the spirit of international law. Only this cooperation will ensure the security of Asia.

I look forward to some lively discussions over the next two days. It is my hope that, through this chance to talk, we will further strengthen the ties between Asia’s coast guard authorities. In this way, we will improve the safety of navigation in the Asian seas.