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Heavy sea traffic linked to collisions in Japan

A fishing boat is seen capsized after a collision with the Maritime Self-Defense Force transport vessel Osumi in the Seto Inland Sea off Otake, Hiroshima Prefecture, on January 15.

Publication Date : 24-01-2014


One cause of a fatal collision between a Maritime Self-Defence Force vessel and a fishing boat a week ago is the heavy traffic in seas around Japan, observers said.

Every time an MSDF ship has been involved in a marine accident, additional measures were taken to prevent recurrence.

Nonetheless, these measures were not sufficient to prevent the 8,900-ton MSDF transport ship Osumi from colliding with the fishing boat Tobiuo in the Seto Inland Sea on January 15. The accident killed two people aboard the 7.6-metre-long vessel.

“It’s not a matter of which [vessel] should held accountable for the collision,” the widow of 64-year-old angler Koji Otake, who was aboard the Tobiuo and died in the collision, said in a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.

“I just want to know why this happened,” she said.

This is the first fatal collision between an MSDF vessel and private one since the Aegis-equipped destroyer Atago collided with the Seitoku Maru fishing boat off the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture in 2008.

In the 2008 accident, the Defence Ministry’s probe found that the Atago's night-duty officers failed to fully watch out for the ship. The MSDF introduced a five-item collision prevention program.

However, another collision involving an MSDF vessel still took place. In 2009, the destroyer Kurama collided with a container ship in the Kanmon Strait between Fukuoka and Yamaguchi prefectures, causing fires on both ships.

Following the accident, the MSDF decided to employ the Automatic Identification System on its vessels in waters with heavy traffic to automatically transmit and receive location and speed data of ships, even though the movements of MSDF ships are supposed to be secret.

In 1988, the submarine Nadashio collided with a pleasure boat off the coast of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, killing 30 people aboard the boat. Speaking about the latest case, an MSDF senior official said, “We adopted all possible measures following the Nadashio incident, ranging from crew training programmes aimed at improving their basic performance of daily duties to hardware improvements, but...[it was in vain.]”

5,000 large ships every day

Traffic in waters close to Japan is said to be very heavy. This is true for the Seto Inland Sea, where the January 15 collision took place, as well.

According to the Japan Coast Guard, around 5,000 large ships equipped with AIS pass around the country each day.

A senior official of the MSDF said, “We get very nervous during navigation especially in Tokyo Bay, the Seto Inland Sea and the Kanmon Strait, where many ships come and go, including large and small vessels as well as fishing and pleasure boats.”

JCG data show that 2,261 ships were involved in accidents in waters around Japan in 2012, causing 78 people to die or go missing.

Ninety-four per cent of accidents in the past five years took place in waters within a 12-nautical mile (about 22-kilometre) zone around the country. Pleasure and fishing boats accounted for 41 per cent of the accidents, with a JCG official saying: “Many collision cases were those involving small ships.”

MSDF head calls for review

At a Tuesday press conference on the January 15 collision, Katsutoshi Kawano, chief of staff of the MSDF, said: “We have taken various measures, including improvement of lookout procedures, since the Atago case. But, we have yet to find the cause of this collision. After we perform an investigation of the incident, we’ll take further measures if necessary.”

The MSDF has set up a special committee in charge of investigating the Osumi accident, but the special committee had not yet been able to question the Osumi crew, because it puts a higher priority on the JCG’s investigation on the case.

Commenting on the collision, Shunichi Tagawa, a lawyer well versed in maritime accidents, told The Yomiuri Shimbun: “SDF vessels with a large displacement must be careful in watching out for smaller ships. The MSDF took collision prevention measures after each accident, but they should reexamine whether the crew acted properly and paid full heed to [the presence of] the boat and whether the vessel was cruising at a safe speed.”


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