SAPPORO – Municipal officials in Otaru, Hokkaido, are upset about a planned port call in mid-October by the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk that is expected to coincide with a port call by a large freighter that was planned earlier.
Otaru has only one accessible wharf for a large ship and local government officials are concerned that a visit by the Kitty Hawk will disrupt its business.
“It is a commercial port and we basically put priority on commercial vessels,” Otaru Mayor Katsumaro Yamada said Monday.
That principle, however, has been bent on occasions in the past.
When the aircraft carrier USS Independence called at the port three years ago, making the first visit to a commercial port in Japan, a Russian freighter was diverted to Tomakomai port, also in Hokkaido.
And like past U.S. Navy visits to civilian ports, the Kitty Hawk’s will be in line with recently revised Japan-U.S. defense guidelines.
Local stevedores are also upset with the carrier’s plan to visit. They say if the practice of giving priority to military ships is repeated, commercial vessels will start shunning Otaru.
The Kitty Hawk, which departed its forward-deployed port of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, on Tuesday, is to visit Otaru from Oct. 13 to 16 to give its crew shore leave and allow them to meet local citizens, according to the local unit of the Japan Coast Guard.
But a grain ship is arriving from the United States around Oct. 14 and will need the wharf for offloading, which will take four to five days, city officials said.
The coast guard asked the city on Sept. 4 to allow the carrier to use its 13-meter-deep Katsunai wharf, but the city is awaiting information from the U.S. Consulate in Sapporo on whether the Kitty Hawk is carrying nuclear weapons.
Since there has been no reply, Otaru officials are now in a dilemma.
Unable to flatly reject the coast guard’s request despite their reluctance to divert the commercial ship elsewhere, city officials have decided to postpone their decision over whether to reschedule the grain ship’s arrival time.
This does not please the stevedores.
An employee of a local stevedoring firm said: “If requested by the city, we will have to arrange for another port. If they cannot refuse the port call by the aircraft carrier, I wish they would at least decide because we have to arrange longshoremen and transportation.”
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