Press Conference

Press Conference by the Defense Minister(08:51-08:58 A.M. June 18, 2013)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date 08:51-08:58 A.M. June 18, 2013
Place: Press Conference Room, Ministry of Defense (MOD)
(This is a provisional translation of an announcement by the Defense Minister and the Q&A session at the subsequent press conference for reference purposes only)
The original text is in Japanese.

1. Announcements
None.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
I will ask a question which I also asked in the press conference held after the Cabinet meeting last Friday. Regarding the night flight case involving the Ospreys in Okinawa, you said you would make confirmations. What is the progress of that matter?

Minister:
In view of the night flight, my understanding of the agreement by the Japan-U.S. Joint Committee is that the operation of the Ospreys from 10 o'clock in the evening to 6 o'clock in the morning is restricted to occasions on which it is absolutely necessary. Since the night flight was carried out for three consecutive days this time, we are currently making confirmation with the U.S. side about the situation. We have not yet been received a response, however.

Question:
Several dozen drum cans were found at soccer grounds in Okinawa City in Okinawa Prefecture, and those cans were labeled "Dow Chemical," a major chemical manufacturer. Given that this was the largest company supplying defoliants to the U.S. Forces during the Vietnam War, the city is currently considering assessing their contents. Do you already know these facts as a Minister? If these are property of the U.S. Forces, could you tell us how you will deal with the situation since I expect that a range of options need to be considered?

Minister:
If the city reports to us about it, we will consider ways to deal with the situation. In any case, since such matter, as was just pointed out, was brought to our attention, I will give instruction to the local defense bureau to carry out thorough information gathering.

Question:
If these drum cans contain defoliants, I imagine that the situation would raise great concern among the local residents. In consideration of a matter such as this one, does the Government intend to work with the U.S. Forces to deal with the situation?

Minister:
Firstly, we would like to confirm the facts.

Question:
The mayor of Yonaguni reportedly conveyed to the MOD staff in charge the town's policy to the effect that it would withdraw the request for a nuisance fee of 1 billion yen for permitting the deployment of a coastal surveillance unit. What is your reaction on that and what do you think about the MOD's approach to move forward the deployment?

Minister:
I understand that the Speaker of the Yonaguni Assembly told the staff of the MOD, "That is the mayor's intention." Also, I received a report that the staff of our Ministry had talks with the mayor last Friday. However, this is not an appropriate time yet to publicize the content of the talks. In any case, I was told that an assembly will be held tomorrow. I will pay close attention to the development in the assembly.

Question:
So is your understanding that such withdrawal has not yet officially been conveyed by the mayor?

Minister:
Although the staff of the Ministry in charge had talks with the mayor, I will refrain from publically announcing the content of the talks. As I said, since an assembly will be held in Yonaguni Town tomorrow, I would like to pay close attention to the development there.

Question:
There seemed to be a close-call incident in the evening of the 11th, in which one wrong move might have led a Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) training ship to collide with a private cargo ship in the Kanmon Straits. Could you confirm the facts on the incident as you understand? Also, what is your reaction?

Minister:
Based on what has been reported to me thus far, such dangerous situation as just mentioned did not occur. According to what has been reported so far, Shimayuki let the first cargo ship go past it on its right side, then it recognized the second ship, which was a large vehicle cargo ship approaching from ahead whose view was blocked by the first ship. Then, Shimayuki was notified by the whistle from the vehicle cargo ship situated ahead of it that the vehicle cargo ship would shift to the left, instead of both ships hurriedly shifting to the right. In response to the notification, Shimayuki decided that it is dangerous to have traffic flowing on the right-hand side of ships as is the fundamental rule, and thus reluctantly passed the vehicle cargo ship on the left-hand side. Also, in view that the distance between the two ships, when passing each other, was 250 m and the width of the Kanmon Straits itself is 6,700 m, the situation in fact appeared to be not as dangerous as some reports indicated. So based on an on-site decision, Shimayuki took adequate actions in response to the instruction sent from the vehicle cargo ship using a whistle that the cargo ship would sail on the left-hand side, or so was reported to me. I presume that a press conference will probably be held by the Chief of the Maritime Staff in this afternoon, so please attend it for more details.

Question:
With regard to the accident in which a high explosive shell was landed outside the Yausubetsu Maneuver Area by mistake, some local people are offended by the fact that the U.S. Forces resumed its training for its own convenience without acquiring the understanding and approval of the local community. What do you think about this procedure?

Minister:
Right after the incident occurred, we immediately requested the U.S. side to prevent the recurrence. Then, in response to the view that the effort was insufficient, the staff of the MOD in charge held further consultation with the U.S. side. Consequently, I was informed that the U.S. side redoubled measures to prevent the recurrence. Moreover, regarding the resumption of training, it was reported to me in fact that the battery that caused the accident has not yet resumed training.

Question:
With regard to the steps taken this time, my impression was that special care seemed to be applied to carry out thorough actions; for example, the commander conveyed a message to the administrative vice-minister, and additional measures were requested to be taken. How do you feel about overall efforts made during these steps?

Minister:
In view that this accident resulted from a human error and it was nearly an unthinkable human error according to the expert of the SDF, we conveyed a firm message to the U.S. side that being careless, as in this case, must not be allowed. At any rate, I heard that the commander gave direct instruction to the U.S. troops in regard to the prevention of recurrence. We will continue our endeavor toward the prevention of recurrence not to allow accidents like this one to occur in the future.

Question:
Related to the case with Shimayuki, you mentioned that it was not as dangerous an event as causing a collision. However, it is also reported that the MSDF crew was questioned by and received instructions from the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) because the training ship of the MSDF side apparently strayed off course more widely than the vehicle cargo ship. Could you comment on this?

Minister:
I don't know much about that detail. However, in a previous incident involving a destroyer, too, a range of our actions was judged by the JCG, which led to an appeal hearing for a Maritime Self-Defense Official working for the MOD, and he was ultimately found not guilty. In any event, I hope that the JCG will have careful understanding concerning these issues.

(End)

-PAGE TOP-