The U.S. military on Thursday carried out a test involving underwater explosions in the Sea of Japan off Shimane Prefecture, in spite of protests from Japan.
It was part of a series of tests to be held Sunday off Tanegashima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture and in two areas of the East China Sea from Friday to Sunday and Monday to Wednesday, the Fisheries Agency and the Japan Coast Guard said.
The operation began despite calls from Japanese authorities asking the U.S. military to cancel it, given that it is the height of the fishing season for queen crab and squid in the area.
Vice Foreign Minister Yukio Takeuchi phoned U.S. Ambassador to Japan Howard Baker at 5:45 p.m. to voice regret that the exercise had taken place without Tokyo having received more details, according to Foreign Ministry officials.
Baker replied that Tokyo’s position on the matter would be kept in mind and that the issue would be discussed by relevant parties, they said.
Having been summoned to the ministry on Thursday afternoon, U.S. Embassy officials explained to Japanese officials that the exercise had been carried out between noon and 12:30 p.m.
It involved the detonation of one explosive device, with the utmost care having been taken to ensure safety around the site, the U.S. officials were quoted as saying.
It was confirmed, for example, that there were no fishing vessels in the area, they said.
The U.S. officials added that any decision on whether the other planned exercises will go ahead would be swiftly conveyed to the Japanese side, ministry officials said.
Thursday’s test apparently took place on the high seas west of the Oki Islands, which lie between 50 km and 80 km off Shimane Prefecture.
The Foreign Ministry, the coast guard and the Fisheries Agency said earlier that the day’s testing was initially scheduled to run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Foreign Ministry and other authorities said they were told the explosions would involve dropping devices — known as noise makers and each weighing about 5 kg — into the sea.
Earlier Thursday, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Tetsuro Yano said he was informed that the devices will make use of explosives but are not bombs, and that the U.S. forces intend to study the impact of such explosions through the sound waves they produce in the water.
The Fisheries Agency and the Shimane and Tottori prefectural governments asked the U.S. forces on Wednesday to halt the testing, and the ministry said it also urged cancellation of the exercise.
According to the officials, a rectangular area stretching 124 km by 148 km was designated as Thursday’s test zone. Part of it is in Japan’s exclusive economic zone for the protection of fishing resources.
Fishery officials said November is the peak season for fishing for queen crabs and squid. About 670 fishing boats from Shimane, Yamaguchi, Tottori and Hyogo prefectures have been licensed to operate in the area.
Also on Thursday, Yamaguchi Prefecture asked the Fisheries Agency to seek a halt of the testing, while Tottori Prefecture lodged a written complaint to the agency over not being informed about the operation until the last minute.
The agency issued a navigation warning Wednesday after it was notified by the U.S. authorities of the testing.
Kagoshima authorities on Thursday issued navigation warnings to local vessels about the planned tests off Tanegashima, Yakushima and Koshikijima islands.
The prefecture said it was informed by the agency on Wednesday night of the test off Tanegashima and on Thursday morning about the two others.
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