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Blame for collision lies mainly with MSDF destroyer Atago

In a verdict on January 22 over a collision between the Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis Destroyer Atago and a small fishing boat, the Yokohama Marine Accident Tribunal concluded that the Atago was mainly at fault.

In the collision that took place in February last year off the coast of Chiba Prefecture, the fishing boat Seitoku Maru was sunk and the father-son crew went missing and were later confirmed dead.

The government inquiry panel, a special organ under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, acknowledged that the Atago failed to maintain a proper watch, resulting in the collision.

The MSDF side has contended that the fishing boat was the primary cause of the collision, alleging the boat made a right turn and accelerated onto the warship's path just before the accident.

However, this argument was rejected by the panel, which determined that it was the Atago that should have taken evasive action as required by the Law for the Prevention of Collision at Sea.

Also, the panel recommended that the 3rd Escort Flotilla, to which the Aegis-equipped destroyer belongs, take comprehensive and preventive measures for safe navigation, apparently asking the unit to take the responsibility on its own as part of the MSDF organization.

No recommendation for penalties or punishment, however, was issued against individual crewmembers of the Atago, including the captain and duty officer.

The MSDF Aegis destroyer Atago collided with the fishing boat Seitoku Maru in the Pacific Ocean off Chiba Prefecture on February 19, 2008.

Despite the fact that the then chief navigator, who as duty officer knew on radar that the Seitoku Maru and two other fishing boats had been approaching 27 minutes before the collision, the Atago failed to take evasive action as required.

It is unusual that the tribunal avoided making recommendations directly to the crewmembers regarding their responsibility for the collision.

Following the tribunal's decision, the Atago's former captain at a press conference insisted that the Seitoku Maru was responsible for the collision.

Regardless of whether censure is issued against individual MSDF members or not, the former captain and the whole of the MSDF should seriously accept the determination.

Akahata, January 23, 2009

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