Twoleft a port in southern Japan on Saturday to join an international anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia.
Prime Minister Taro Aso was on hand to see the ships off.
“It is well known that piracy is growing in the,” Aso said. “We hope you will fulfill your mission and return safely.”
Japan has had restrictions on the use of what other nations call “military forces” since the end of World War II. To even send warships as far away from Japan on a mission that could including fighting required special government steps for Japan.
Japan’s Cabinet had to approve a new anti-piracy bill to allow the mission.
Japan’s ships can only be deployed to protect Japanese vessels and their crews, during normal mission and Japan’s navy has been called the “Maritime Self Defense Force” for decades.
About 2,000 Japanese ships pass near Somalia each year.
A special Japanese law designed to relax restrictions on the use of arms by personnel on navy ships if engaged by pirates will allow Japan’s vessels to escort foreign ships in danger.
The anti-piracy effort has now drawn ships from Japan and China far away from home for the first time in decades to conduct actions that could involve actual engagement with another armed force.
China’s ships in the anti-piracy mission are the first Chinese warships sent outside China’s territorial waters in centuries.
Ironically, one of the two Japanese warships on the anti-piracy mission, Sazanami, visited China last June — the first visit to China by a Japanese waship since the 1940s.
Warships from several countries including Britain, the United States, France, China and Germany are participating in the anti-paracy mission that the Japanese warships will join when they get to the waters off Somalia.