The Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Shirane was slated to be sent to support U.S.-led antiterrorism operations last November but the mission was scrubbed at the last minute when an anonymous letter was received warning of repair irregularities, leading the government to deploy an Aegis warship instead, sources said.
The 5,200-ton Shirane, operating out of the MSDF’s Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture, was to sail to the Indian Ocean as part of Japan’s support for the U.S.-led effort.
The sources said that the letter is believed to have been sent by an MSDF member who opposed the Shirane’s dispatch. The sender remains unknown.
The sources added that they suspect the sender might have been a member of the Shirane crew who did not want to go on the mission. The Indian Ocean duty by that time had become notorious among MSDF personnel for being long and tough.
The Maritime Staff Office has confirmed receiving the letter, but it said an investigation detected no problems or defects in the ship.
The office said it decided not to send the Shirane because it could not consider the matter an outsider’s prank, given that the letter was precise and technical.
The scheduled departure of the Shirane was undisclosed at the time, but its crew was getting ready to sail. The letter was delivered around Nov. 18 and the ship’s departure was suspended Nov. 23, two days before it was to sail.
The MSDF then dispatched the 7,250-ton Kirishima, a destroyer equipped with the advanced Aegis air-defense system. If the Shirane had been dispatched, the Kirishima would probably not have been sent to the Indian Ocean, according to the sources.
Other sources close to the MSDF said the cancellation of the Shirane’s mission eventually expedited the dispatch of an Aegis ship.
At the time, critics, including members of the ruling coalition, said the dispatch of a sophisticated Aegis destroyer would go beyond what Japan is allowed to do under the war-renouncing Constitution.
Some experts said that intelligence gathered by the Aegis system in connection with antiterrorism activities could be used by the U.S. fleet for attack purposes, an activity that can be viewed as Japan engaging in collective defense. The government’s position is that such a right is banned by the Constitution.
The United States welcomed Japan’s announcement that it would deploy the Aegis destroyer.
Several sources said the Shirane underwent checks last fall by Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries Co. at an MSDF repair facility under the supervision of senior MSDF officials.
The destroyer was scheduled to sail from Yokosuka on Nov. 25 for the Indian Ocean, and replace the destroyer Hiei, the sources said.
The sender of the letter, addressed to the head of the facility, wrote that parts used in turbines and pipes were not approved under regulations, and could break down while the ship was under way, according to the sources.
The letter also named an official at IHI, saying the information was relayed to the official but the warning was ignored.
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