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HOME  > Past issues  > 2008 February 20 - 26  > MSDF’s arrogant ‘military first’ attitude comes to the fore
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2008 February 20 - 26 TOP3 [SDF]

MSDF’s arrogant ‘military first’ attitude comes to the fore

February 23, 2008
The Defense Ministry and MSDF have been giving piecemeal and inconsistent accounts of what actually happened when the MSDF Aegis destroyer collided with a fishing boat in the Pacific Ocean. (Page 9)

The Defense Ministry and Maritime Self-Defense Force have been giving piecemeal and inconsistent accounts of what actually happened when the MSDF Aegis destroyer Atago collided with the fishing boat Seitoku Maru in the Pacific Ocean off Chiba Prefecture on February 19.

However, even these limited accounts have exposed the military’s policy of attaching little importance to the lives of civilians based on its “military first” policy.

The Defense Ministry so far disclosed that the Atago knew of the Seitoku Maru at 3:55 a.m., 12 minutes before the collision; guards had already begun their shifts and were on duty; the Atago failed to steer starboard, the evasive action required by the Law for the Prevention of Collision at Sea; and the Atago was on autopilot, which prevented it from changing course until one minute before the collision.

Fishermen on boats accompanying the Seitoku Maru said that the Atago should have noticed them more than 30 minutes before the collision.

These accounts raise doubts: the Atago could have taken evasive actions if it wanted to and simply failed to take the lead in avoiding an accident because they never thought of it.

In fact, many fishermen said, “Large-sized vessels themselves do not take evasive actions. We always have to dodge them.” A former MSDF senior official even said, “I wish the Seitoku Maru had dodged well.”

While passing through one of the busiest water areas in the world, the Atago was on autopilot. “Unbelievable. Autopilot should be used in a stable open sea,” said an expert.

At the February 22 Lower House Security Committee meeting, Defense Minister Ishiba Shigeru was asked if the MSDF might put themselves above the people. Ishiba in effect admitted that the idea of “military first” mentality exists in the MSDF by stating, “We must ask if they have alienated themselves from the public for they are the crew of large ships and engaged in national security. I will thoroughly educate them so that they recognize the rights of fishermen as persons living on the sea.”

This is a question that was discussed when the MSDF submarine Nadashio collided and sank a fishing boat in Tokyo Bay 20 years ago. The Nadashio took no evasive actions in the busy water, but MSDF officials tried to defend the submarines’ crew by stressing that the vessel was a warship.

When the legislation to deal with contingencies was enacted in 2003, a Ground SDF senior official’s remark gave rise to controversy. “When an SDF vehicle rushing to confront threats collides with an evacuees car, the SDF vehicle has a priority to pass,” he said.

“Military first” mentality is the prevalent way of thinking in the SDF.
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