With the conclusion of the Second World War in the Pacific, the Imperial Japanese Fleet was in tatters. Most of the major units had been sunk and the handful that remained were in poor condition. The allies decided that in the future, Japan would not have an army, navy or air force. Of course events unfolded that changed that decision as North Korean invaded South Korea in 1950, it occurred that it may not be bad for Japan to rearm and this was done under the name of the Japanese Self Defense Force. However, another force came into existence before then. Even without a navy, Japan still needed a force to patrol the Japanese coastline and perform rescue missions and other operations analogous to the US Coast Guard. In 1948 the Maritime Safety Agency was formed (Kaijo Hoancho) was formed to provide this ability for Japan. Formed under the Department of Transportation, it was small at first. With the Japanese shipbuilding industry in shambles from the war, the first vessels were a motley collection of castoff auxiliaries and converted merchant vessels. Finally by the 1950s the Japanese shipbuilding industry had been reestablished and the Maritime Safety Agency could start acquiring purpose built ships. Although there were a few larger vessels, most ships for the Agency were under 1,000-tons. It greatly expanded in the 1970s to become one of the largest coast guards in the world.
As part of a civilian department, the Japanese cutters fly the national flag of a red disc on a white field, unlike the ships of the JMSDF, which fly the traditional naval ensign of a red disc with red rays on a white field. For those modelers who admire the white cutters of the USCG with their red-orange bands, the vessels of the Maritime Safety Agency are equally colorful. The ships are white, like those of the USCG but instead of using red-orange bands, the livery is white with a stylized set of blue bands, which resemble a capital block S lying on its side, along with a blue funnel and additional markings.
When Japan started building her own cutters, they were of course built in different sizes, depending upon their prime mission. By the 1980s the first wave of cutters were already scrapped or nearing the ends of their useful lives. On August 16, 1988 a new cutter design with two side-by-side funnels was launched and restarted the cutter nuering back at 1. This was an one-off ship and named Oki PL-1, originally Nojima. Rated a high endurance cutter was 85m in length and displaced 950-tons light (1,500-tons full load). She had a maximum sustained speed of 19-konts and was equipped with one JM-61 MB 20mm gatling gun. She was a quick build and entered service on September 21, 1989. However, the Oki was a test bed, and her design was evaluated in order to improve the breed for the next build. The three ships of the Ojika class were the result. Ojika PL-02 was laid down on September 28, 1990 and entered service October 3, 1991, while Kudaka PL-03 was laid down September 9, 1993 and entered service on October 25, 1994. Lastly Satsuma PL-04 was laid down September 23, 1994 and entered service on October 26, 1995.
These three ships were slightly larger than the Oki. They retained the overall look of the Oki with two side-by-side funnels but the bridge was reworked in design. Length jumped by 20-feet to 91.40m and displacement rose to 1,200-tons light and 1,835-tons full load. The design added a cargo hold underneath the stern landing pad and a stern dock for small rescue craft. After Satsuma completed there was another long pause for evaluation of the design. A new design was worked up, which addressed areas that needed improvement. On October 22, 1997 the first of this design was laid down as Hakata PL-05. Hakata was laid down on October 22, 1997 in Tokyo at Ishikawajima-Harima. Launched June 7, 1998, she entered service on November 26, 1998. Following the previous pattern, the design was further increased in size. Length increased to 93.5m and displacement rose to 1,365-tons light, 1,930-tons full load. One big difference with Hakata from the previous two classes was the addition of a 35mm/90 Oerlikon cannon to complement the 20mm gatling. Named the Hakata Class high endurance cutter, three more copies PL-6 through PL-08 were ordered.
The Skywave box art calls this kit an Erimo class patrol vessel. The photographs in this article were labeled as such. However, upon looking up the vessels in Combat Fleets of the World 2000-2001, compiled by noted naval sage and scholar, A. D. Baker III, I noticed that this was the first ship of the Hakata class, derived from the preceding Oki and Ojika classes. I pulled out a Jane’s Fighting Ships 1968-1969 to find the Erimo class, which were produced thirty years before the Hakata. They were lighter and significantly shorter than the modern design with a single full and different superstructure. Why Skywave calls this Erimo class is beyond me, unless the name is being reused. The kit comes with two sprues of white plastic parts and a beautiful multi-colored decal sheet. (News Flash - Mystery Revealed - The one and only A. D. Baker III has ripped the shroud of mystery from the name Erimo class for the Hakata. "OJIKA was renamed ERIMO on 31 October 2000, too late for inclusion in the 2000-2001 edition of COMBAT FLEETS. Similarly, the Japan Maritime Safety Agency was officially renamed the Japan Coast Guard (note: not "Japanese") on 1 April 2000. Sisters ERIMO (ex-OJIKA), KUDAKA, and YAHIKO (PL 02-04) were 91.40-m overall and displaced 2,006 tons full load. The succeeding HAKATA-class ships KAHKATA, KORIKOMA (ex-DEJIMA), SATSUMA, and MOTOBU (PL 05 through PL 08) were larger at 93.5-m overall and displacing 2,055 tons full load. Ships with PL-series hull numbers are still referred to as being of the 1,000-ton Class" by the JCG, although they are, obviously quite a bit larger.")
Sprue one has the major hull pieces with the lower hull with square transom stern and extreme flair to reduce wetness. The long forecastle has good detail at the bow with anchor chains, two twin bollard fittings, four triple bollard fittings. Inboard open chocks and other fittings are present. The short quarterdeck is covered with detail with more tripl bollards, twin bollards, open chocks, and cable hawse. The superstructure is divided along the centerline. The two halves are not mirror images of each other in that window and door count differ. Other parts include aft superstructure bulkhead, forward 01 deck, aft 01 deck (funnel base), bridge, 02 deck and various smaller structures. Also included are the parts for the two funnels, divided along the centerline and with vary prominent caps. Detail is a little bit thick but plentiful. The second sprue includes all of the small parts, plus lower hull and stand. The lower hull has separate bilge keels and stabilizers in addition to the shafts, struts, propellers and rudders. Two helicopters are included with rotors. Panel lines are overdone but when painted, they should be very presentable. Other parts include ship’s boats, davits, anchors, armament, platforms, mast, mast fittings and other assorted fittings.
The greatest visual impact comes with the white and blue color scheme of the Japanese Coast Guard. An excellent decal sheet emphasizes this strength. The stylized hull stripes, "Japan Coast Guard" lettering, funnel emblems, ship numbering, blue stripping and helicopter pad white pattern, all add a layer of grace not found in a plain gray warship.
All Coasties will love the Skywave Hakata. This modern design has a dramatic bow sheer and the white and blue Japan Coast Guard paint scheme makes an interesting supplement to the white and orange-red USCG scheme. The Hakata can be acquired from Pacific Front.