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PLH31 Shikishima

Japan's Coast Guard (JCG) on November 28, 2013 unveiled a new, next-generation patrol ship that will be deployed in anti-piracy, counter-terrorism and regular domestic duties. According to the Japan Coast Guard Commandant Yuji Sato, the 150-meter long, 6,500-ton vessel will play a key role in Japan's ongoing patrol operations and will be provisionally based at the Yokohama Coast Guard Office near Tokyo.

The vessel, named Akitsushima, is one of the largest of its kind in the world and is equipped with next-generation technology and equipment. It's capable of carrying helicopters and has 40-mm cannons mounted, officials from JCG said. The ship has a long-range cruising capacity, making it a valuable asset for the Coast Guard. It can make voyages from Japan to Europe, for example, without the need to refuel.

PLH-32 is a more modern, newer version of PLH 31 Shikishima. With a length of 150m (492 ft) and 9,300 tons full load displacement (the size of a destroyer), these are the largest "Offshore Patrol Vessels" in the world. They may accomodate two medium size helicopters. They are fitted with OPS-14 2D air search radar (the Japanese version of the American AN/SPS-49) and a couple of Oerlikon 35 mm twin cannons, a M61 Vulcan cannon as a part of a remote firing system, and some 40mm cannons. As PLH-32 is much newer, it may be named a different class.

The Shikishima was an armed escort ship newly built for Japan’s Maritime Safety Agency specifically to guard plutonium transport ships. Prior to the first [and only] 1992-3 shipment, a July 1988 Pentagon threat assessment concluded: "To adequately deter theft or sabotage, it would be necessary to provide a dedicated surface combatant to escort the vessel throughout the trip… no one could guarantee the safety of the cargo from a security incident, such as an attack on the vessel by small, fast craft, especially if armed with modern anti-ship missiles."

The patrol ships displace 6,500 tons (more than destroyers in most navies) and carry two helicopters. They are capable of 25 knots and have a great operating range at economical speeds. The Shikishima could supplement the Japanese navy destroyer and frigate force if it were not for their limited armaments (only guns). Other patrol vessels in the coast guard ranged in size from 1,206 to 5,204 tons.

After protests regarding security on the high seas Japan built a high tech, minimally armed, gun ship (Shikishima) to accompany the plutonium vessel. US officials helped Japanese officials develop security plans for the Shikishima. The 6,500-ton [light] escort ship was equipped with two helicopters, two speedboats, dual rapid-fire 35 mm gun turrets fore and aft and 20 mm vulcan guns port and starboard. DOD and DOE officials toured the ship in Japan and were satisfied that the ship met the physical security commitments described in the transportation plan.

On 04 January 1993, the Japanese ship Akatsuki Maru, along with the armed escort ship Shikishima, completed a 2-month voyage in which it transported 1.7 tons of plutonium oxide from Cherbourg, France, to Tokai, Japan. The Akatsuki Maru was a converted freighter with a gross tonnage of 4,800 tons. This was the first in a series of shipments of recovered plutonium that Japan had proposed under the 1988 Agreement for Cooperation Between the United States and Japan Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (the Agreement).

Japan had not disclosed the route for security reasons. The plutonium, which had been sent from Japan for reprocessing, was for use in fast-breeder reactors. The plutonium shipment, reportedly the largest ever single shipment, had sparked concern among a large number of countries whose coasts it might pass about possible accident, such as a fire, or a terrorist attack. Japanese power companies were planning another shipment of reprocessed plutonium in 1995 and are considering steps that might make the transport of the fuel for their nuclear power plants safer and less likely to arouse anxieties. Critics of the scheme believed that the security being provided for the plutonium ship was insufficient and that terrorists would be tempted to interdict the ship and use the reprocessed fuel for nuclear weapons production or sales.

The arrangement of having armed transport ships protect each other instead of an escort by military vessels was first tried in 1999 when plutonium based mixed oxide (MOX) fuel was transported from Britain and France to Japan. This entailed arming the nuclear transport ships, the "Pacific Pintail" and "Pacific Teal," with a total of six fixed guns. Both ships were prepared to carry at least 40 assemblies, containing some 450 kilograms of weapons-usable plutonium, from Britain and France to Japan. In 2004 the US government announced plans to ship weapons-grade plutonium from disassembled Russian nuclear arms from the United States to France for reprocessing, but the vessels would not be escorted by warships. The two ships would guard each other during the voyage across the Atlantic, but would not be escorted by warships.

Ship List
# Name Builder Launch Comm Decomm Notes
# 19
# 19
# 19

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Page last modified: 02-04-2014 17:43:49 ZULU