DARWIN, Australia (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Saturday visited crew members of a Japanese coast guard patrol vessel anchored in Darwin that is on an anti-piracy mission in waters around Southeast Asia.
"The waters including around Australia are an extremely important ocean area that can be called a lifeline of maritime transportation, and protecting peaceful seas is indispensable," Abe said in a speech on board the Japan Coast Guard ship Echigo.
The northern Australian city of Darwin is a key military port located between the Indian and the Pacific oceans.
Abe also touched on the coast guard's role in forcing a number of North Korean boats allegedly engaged in illegal fishing within Japan's exclusive economic zone to move out of the area. "This became possible because you engaged in the mission with a sense of high responsibility," he said.
The 3,300-ton vessel was dispatched to Australia and the Philippines in late October to take part in Japan's effort to help realize a "free and open Indo-Pacific" based on the rule of law and freedom of navigation.
Abe then paid tribute at a cenotaph commemorating a Japanese submarine sunk off Darwin in January 1942 during World War II.
In a symbolic show of reconciliation, he paid the previous day a visit to the Darwin Cenotaph, which commemorates victims of the city's bombing by the Japanese military during the war.
Abe stopped in the capital of Australia's Northern Territory for bilateral talks with Prime Minister Scott Morrison between Association of Southeast Asian Nations-related meetings in Singapore and the two-day summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea.