Press Conference by Defense Minister Ishiba (8:17-8:27 A.M. February 22, 2008)
Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date:8:17-8:27 A.M. February 22, 2008
Place: Lobby in front of the Minister’s Room in the House, Doorstepping(This is a provisional translation of an announcement by the Defense Minister and the abstract of the Q&A session at the subsequent press conference for reference purpose only.)
The original full text is in Japanese.
A Cabinet Meeting was held starting at 8 A.M. At the Informal Cabinet Meeting, I reported on the current state of the accident between the destroyer Atago and the fishing boat Seitoku Maru. I also reported on the meeting I had yesterday with the missing persons’ family and relatives, fishing association representatives, the City Mayor, and the Prefectural Governor who accompanied me, as I went to the local city.
The Prime Minister said, “Each Cabinet minister should take every measure to ensure crisis management and understand thoroughly that the current Government or Cabinet is evaluated in light of how well crisis management is being conducted.” He also gave instructions, saying, “There appears to be an organizational problem with regard to the Ministry of Defense. The organization must be fundamentally reviewed. As Minister of Defense, you should conduct the review properly.”
Furthermore, in relation to that, about the reform of the Ministry of Defense, an MOD reform promotion team will be launched in the Ministry today. The team consists of 15 members, and there will be nine main persons for review, including three officials and six SDF uniform personnel. In addition, a secretariat will be launched and staffed by six persons, including three officials and three SDF uniform personnel. The Vice Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff of the Joint Staff Office will participate in this review as councilors. The system at the time of this accident and afterwards should of course be reviewed. The committee of experts has actually been discussing what would be the ideal form for the MOD organization at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence. The aim is to launch an MOD organization that can make appropriate and prompt responses based on the direction the committee will give. That is all I have to announce.
2. Questions and Answers
Regarding the accident, according to verification and investigation conducted by the Coast Guard following the accident, there is a strong possibility that the Atago was the one which was obligated to avoid the boat. What do you think of this situation at this time?
Currently the Coast Guard and the search authorities are conducting interviews with various parties to investigate the exact cause of the accident. I am aware that there are reports of what you have just mentioned. It would be rather irresponsible of me to make comments before the Coast Guard has formally disclosed its findings. However, the question is whether the actions of the Atago were appropriate in light of the law and regulations, etc. and in light of the situation at that time. If the Atago’s actions were appropriate, then it may be said that such an accident would not have occurred. We will by no means attempt self-justification, and there must be absolutely no manipulation of information. We will give the maximum cooperation in what we can do when the Coast Guard investigates the cause. Furthermore, I intend to correct things that can be corrected now, without waiting for the clarification of what caused the accident.
Of the facts related to the accident, one important fact is at what point in time the Atago noticed the Seitoku Maru. There was a statement that the Atago spotted a green light two minutes before the collision, but another fisherman pointed out the possibility that this was not the light of the Seitoku Maru. Given that, there is the possibility that the Atago did not notice the presence of the Seitoku Maru until just before collision. What do you think about this point?
There have been various statements by the people concerned, and we should not decide on whether each statement is correct or wrong depending on who has given the statement, but rather realize that statements differ depending on what those people were referring to in their statement and what conditions they were under at that time. So, the content of each statement can differ slightly. Looking at the overall picture will enable us to understand what truly occurred. At this moment, we are not able to confirm whether the green light was the starboard light or whether there were various indicator lights in the pilothouse. I believe that the cause of the accident will gradually be identified following the search authorities?Everification of every statement from the various points of views including whether the Atago crew noticed the Seitoku Maru two minutes immediately before the collision or earlier; whether the Atago crew decided that there was no danger, who made such decision, and whether there was no mistaken perception of the situation. As things stand now, I believe the search authorities will properly grasp a variety of information and reveal clearly the cause of the accident.
Although the Atago noticed the fishing boat 12 minutes before the collision, there is a blank time until two minutes before the collision. Is there a possibility that the Atago lost track of the boat during this time period?
Since I am in my current position and do not have all of the information, I don’t think it is proper for me to say that it is possible or that it isn’t possible. The persons who have such information should say that this is the cause. I don’t think that I should make comments about this without accurate knowledge of such information.
Given this accident, what do you think about the responsibility of the Chief of Staff of the MSDF, who was involved in the accident?
I think the issue of responsibility is something of which everyone, including myself, engaged in crises management as usual, must always appreciate. On the other hand, the missing fishermen’s family, relatives, and other people concerned strongly pointed out yesterday that it should be the responsibility of the persons involved at the time of the accident to explain why it happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Therefore, I think that I have some responsibility myself, including naturally the responsibility for the occurrence of this accident, as well as the responsibility of establishing a system that clarifies what the parties involved should do so that this type of accident will not occur again. Consequently, the most urgent task that we must perform now is to search for the missing persons. I don’t think that discussing the responsibility of the Chief of Staff of the MSDF at a time like this is considerate of the feelings of the missing persons’ family and people concerned, who are burdened by the most worry. I am not saying this to cloud the issue of responsibility or to evade it.
(For the remainder of the press conference, please refer to the Japanese version.)
- Press Resources