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MSDF officers’ acquittal stands in fatal collision

Kyodo

The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court acquittal of two Maritime Self-Defense Force officers over a 2008 collision between an Aegis destroyer and a fishing boat that killed two fishermen just outside Tokyo Bay.

The high court turned down an appeal from prosecutors against the 2011 decision by the Yokohama District Court acquitting Keitaro Ushirogata, 41, and Tomohisa Nagaiwa, 39, both lieutenant commanders who were serving as duty officers when the collision occurred in the early hours of Feb. 19, 2008.

The 7,750-ton destroyer Atago, equipped with the Aegis air defense system, ran into and sank the 7.3-ton fishing boat Seitoku Maru off Chiba Prefecture, leaving Haruo Kichisei, 58, and his 23-year-old son, Tetsuhiro, missing. They were proclaimed dead three months later.

At issue was whether the Atago was responsible for taking evasive action and if the deaths were therefore the result of professional negligence on the part of the two officers.

The Yokohama Marine Accident Tribunal, an administrative panel on maritime accidents, in January 2009 ruled that an inadequate watch on the part of the Atago was the main cause of the collision. However, the Yokohama District Court reversed that judgement in May 2011, arguing the fishing vessel had created the risk of collision.

During the high court litigation, prosecutors argued that the responsibility to evade the collision lay with the destroyer.