MSDF chief faces ax over collision

Kyodo News

Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba will sack the Maritime Self-Defense Force chief over Tuesday’s collision between an Aegis destroyer and a fishing boat and for failing to notify him and Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda of the accident in a timely manner, ministry sources said Friday.

MSDF Adm. Eiji Yoshikawa, who became MSDF chief of staff in August 2006, is expected to be relieved of his command as early as next month, they said.

Vice MSDF Chief of Staff Vice Adm. Tamotsu Kato and Vice Adm. Yoji Koda, commander of the fleet, are being named as possible successors.

Fukuda ordered Ishiba on Friday to fundamentally reform his ministry as criticism grows over its handling of accident, which involved the destroyer Atago and the fishing boat Seitoku Maru, whose father-son crew remain missing, Ishiba told reporters.

“I think organizational problems were behind” the accident and the handling of it and “we must review the organization fundamentally,” Fukuda was quoted by Ishiba as telling Cabinet members.

The prime minister urged that ministers do their utmost to ensure that proper crisis-management procedures are followed in the future.

“The government and the Cabinet are always questioned whether they can manage crises properly.”

In connection with the order, the ministry set up an in-house task force for the reforms the same day consisting of six Self-Defense Forces officers and three senior bureaucrats, Ishiba said.

The task force is separate from a defense reform panel that was set up previously at the prime minister’s office.

The ministry and the MSDF are coming under fire for poor information disclosure on the collision, which took place off Chiba Prefecture’s Boso Peninsula.

The MSDF is also being scrutinized because it took about 90 minutes to relay information about the accident to Ishiba and two hours to make it available to Fukuda.