UK could send aid to Japan quake

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The Independent Online

Britain could send humanitarian assistance and search and rescue teams to Japan following today's devastating earthquake, Foreign Secretary William Hague has said.

Mr Hague was speaking after chairing a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency response committee to discuss what help can be offered following the massive quake, which measured 8.9 magnitude.

There has so far been no confirmation of any British casualties from the earth tremor or the tsunami waves which it caused, said the Foreign Secretary.

Speaking in Whitehall following the Cobra meeting, Mr Hague said the quake was "of huge dimensions by any standards".

He added: "The Prime Minister and I have sent our condolences to the people of Japan for the deaths and injuries that have occurred.

"We are in touch with the government of Japan to offer our assistance and we have just been reviewing what assistance we could provide.

"That may take the form of humanitarian assistance, search and rescue teams or victim identification - whatever assistance is required and whatever the Japanese government would like us to send in the coming days."

Mr Hague said UK officials in Japan were talking to local authorities to establish how badly British nationals had been affected.

Rapid-deployment teams were "ready to go" from the UK and within the region to affected areas - including anywhere yet to be hit by the tsunami, he said.

It remained "very difficult to tell" what impact the giant waves may have elsewhere, he added.

"Our embassy and consulates in Japan are in touch with local authorities in Japan trying to assess the situation and also assess whether any British nationals have been affected or how seriously they have been affected," he said.

He went on: "We are following very closely what happens with the tsunami and we are in touch with our embassies and consulates in the countries that may be affected.

"We will give any assistance we can and in the meantime our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan at this very difficult time."

Asked about the potential for the tsunami to wreak havoc in other parts of the world, he said: "It is very difficult to tell.

"It should have come by the Philippines and Papua New Guinea in the last couple of hours. We are awaiting reports as to whether it has done serious damage in those countries.

"We will have to see, as the next few hours go by, the impact that it has.

"It looks, of course, very dramatic in the case of Japan but Japan has better coastal defences than many of the other countries that may be affected."

The Foreign Secretary conceded that dealing with the Japanese quake at the same time as the fighting in Libya was a "stretch" for the Foreign Office.

"It does stretch our resources but that is why we co-ordinate across the whole of Government," he said.

"The FCO and the Department for International Development are in the lead and we will make sure the necessary resources are there."

Prime Minister David Cameron told a press conference in Brussels: "We stand ready to help in any way that we can."

Mr Cameron said he had spoken to Mr Hague about Britain's contribution to the international response and what could be done to help British nationals caught up in the tragedy.

"We've made clear to the Japanese government that if they need any additional or specialist help, we stand ready to assist," he said.

"Of course, the British Embassy in Tokyo and our network of embassies around the Pacific region will give all the support that is needed to any affected British nationals.

"We will keep our response, and our support for Japan and the region, under close review in the coming days."