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Japan mourns death of 9 victims in Algeria hostage crisis
Publication Date : 26-01-2013
Families and friends grieved anew as the nine coffins containing Japanese nationals killed in a hostage crisis at an Algerian natural gas plant were unloaded from a government plane at Haneda Airport on yesterday morning.
The plane carried the nine victims and seven survivors. They were either employees of JGC Corp. or workers involved in the project.
At a press conference at JGC headquarters, an emotional President Koichi Kawana said, "We lost very capable colleagues who did their jobs with pride."
"We have been contributing to developing countries, particularly those with natural resources, including Muslim countries, by building oil and natural gas plants," Kawana said.
"Everyone involved took pride in fostering economic growth," he said.
Kawana, who went to Algeria and identified the victims, said, "I went to Algeria determined to bring all of our employees home alive." Regarding some foreign staff whose whereabouts is still unknown, Kawana said, "It's deplorable."
Asked how he felt when he first saw a body believed to be one of the Japanese, Kawana was at a loss for a few seconds and then said: "I wished it wasn't. It was so painful, just painful. It was really awful," Kawana said. The survivors who went with him to identify the body called out the victim's name and cried, according to Kawana.
About 100 people left flowers at JGC headquarters Thursday. After the tenth victim was confirmed dead, more people left flowers yesterday.
Sixty-year-old JGC employee Hidemi Maekawa, one of the nine victims, was a talented rugby forward who attended Kitakyushu National College of Technology in Kitakyushu. He entered the college in 1967, three years after it was founded.
Classmates remembered him playing a key role in leading the rugby team to two consecutive national titles when he was in his fourth and fifth years.
"He was a high-achiever in terms of academics. Not very flashy, he was a hard worker," one of his colleagues said. "He was respectful," another classmate said.
After graduating in 1972, he joined JGC. He rarely attended class reunions due to overseas assignments.
"We're proud he worked all over the world," a classmate said.
Shuichi Takahashi, 57, the director of Maruzen Showa Unyu Co. in Yokohama, worked with Maekawa when he was a supervisor at a natural gas plant construction project in Qatar about 15 years ago.
"He devoted himself to his work and was quiet, serious and calm, no matter what the situation," Takahashi said.
Another victim, Keisuke Kawabata, 49, was also a rugby player. A female classmate from the Tokyo metropolitan government-run Shinjuku High School said: "He was a strong, tanned man. He was the picture of a rugby player."
Popular with classmates, he always took the lead during school cultural and sports festivals.
His class held a reunion last October, which Kawabata was unable to attend as he was overseas, as usual.
A male classmate said: "I heard he was busy, working all over the world. But I didn't expect he'd be involved in such a tragedy."
Another victim, Yasuji Goto, 59, an employee of a JGC-affiliated company, moved to Thailand about 20 years ago, according to his nephew.
At Goto's home in Oita, his nephew was told by the media on Friday morning about the return of Goto's body.
"I don't want to believe it. How did he feel when he was taken hostage?" the nephew said.
Goto worked in Latin America and Thailand, building bridges and buildings. Relatives worried about him since he sometimes worked in dangerous countries.
A cheerful, big-brother type, Goto once told them: "I offer food to non-Japanese workers [at the plant]."
"He was a gallant man. I guess he worked hard to do some good abroad," a neighbour said.