TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s navy wants to buy its first oil tanker to carry fuel to Okinawa as it cranks up operations in the East China Sea to counter a growing Chinese naval presence, two sources familiar with plan said.
The Maritime Self Defense Forces (MSDF) needs a tanker able to carry 300,000 barrels of fuel to White Beach port on Okinawa where it stores fuel for warships that patrol the region.
The plan will be included in a defense review outlining equipment procurement for the five years beginning April 2019, the sources said.
“It takes too long time for ships to return to their base in (mainland) Kyushu for refueling so more are stopping in Okinawa instead,” said one of the sources, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
Operations in the East China Sea, where Japan and China are locked in a territorial dispute over the ownership of a group of islands claimed as the Senkaku in Tokyo and Diaoyu in Beijing, are intensifying as China’s military strength there grows.
“Activity at White Beach has increased by three to four times, but there isn’t enough space to expand capacity,” said the other source, who had just returned from a visit there.
The White Beach facility is currently supplied by commercial shippers who usually take two months to complete deliveries once a contract is agreed. Management of the fuel dump, however, has become difficult as the pace of naval operations increase, making it more difficult for the MSDF to forecast future demand.
The tanker is expected to cost “several tens of billions of yen” and will have a crew of up to 20 sailors, the sources said.
A spokesman for Ministry of Defense declined to comment.
Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry