Main collision blame lies with Atago

MSDF destroyer's watch failures caused deaths of trawler's father-son crew: tribunal

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) The Yokohama Marine Accident Tribunal determined Thursday that the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Atago was mainly at fault in a fatal predawn collision with a fishing boat off Chiba Prefecture last February.

The government inquiry panel recommended in its decision that the 3rd Escort Flotilla, to which the Aegis-equipped destroyer belongs, provide thorough instructions on safe navigation — the second such action meted out against an MSDF unit.

Thursday’s verdict was keenly anticipated, as observers wondered whether the trial-style government panel would acknowledge the MSDF’s responsibility in the accident and issue a recommendation against the flotilla.

In the inquiry, four former crew members and the 3rd Escort Flotilla, headquartered in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, were designated as parties involved in the accident — equivalent to defendants in a criminal trial.

The four former crew members are Capt. Ken Funato, 53, then the skipper of the destroyer, Lt. Cmdr. Keitaro Ushirogata, 36, then the chief navigator, Lt. Cmdr. Tomohisa Nagaiwa, 35, then the chief antisubmarine warfare officer, and Lt. Cmdr. Tatsuto Ataka, 44, the officer then in charge of the vessel’s radar-equipped Combat Information Center.

Ushirogata was the chief watch officer until just before the collision, while Nagaiwa had just taken over the watch before the warship, which was running a long course, ran over the trawler, killing its Chiba-based father-son crew.

Investigators told the panel earlier that the Atago failed to keep a proper watch, resulting in the collision. The watch crews, for instance, had maintained insufficient monitoring of the trawler, which was among several fishing boats spotted in the area, and had shortened their watch-change procedures against guidelines, they alleged.

They also said the flotilla failed to adequately train the destroyer crew on aspects of safety, demanding that the panel issue a recommendation against all five parties in the inquiry.

The MSDF side 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.

In the Feb. 19, 2008, accident, the 7,750-ton destroyer collided with the 7.3-ton Seitoku Maru in the Pacific off Cape Nojima, cutting the fishing boat in two. Haruo Kichisei, 58, and his son, Tetsuhiro, 23, were lost at sea.