• Kyodo

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The Hyogo Prefectural Government lodged a protest Wednesday with the Defense Agency about a missile-related drill over the Sea of Japan the previous day that was conducted without sufficient notice.

No missiles were launched during the drill, according to the Defense Agency, but flares fired to draw heat-seeking missiles off target fell into the sea near a fishing boat, frightening its crew and prompting them to flee, Hyogo officials said.

The prefecture said the fishing boat was apparently on the southern edge of the training zone, which covered a 330 km × 250 km area.

None of the six crew members aboard the fishing boat was injured, but at least 10 fishing boats were in the area. The prefectural government said the test could have had “fatal consequences.”

The officials quoted the boat’s skipper as saying that he thought the incident might have been another launch of a North Korean Taepodong missile, one of which was test-fired July 5 along with six other ballistic missiles.

The prefecture said it was notified by the Defense Agency about a “firing drill” via the Fisheries Agency, but was not told it would be a missile-related exercise.

The Defense Agency, which said the drills simulated an attack by F-4 fighters on a destroyer, stated that no fishing boats were in the training area at the time.

The destroyer fired 10 flares to divert the fighters’ missiles, which were not actually launched, according to the agency.

The fighters flew at about 90 meters to 450 meters above the sea during the drill, the agency said.

According to the prefecture’s protest, which was lodged with the Defense Agency and the Fisheries Agency, the crew of the 19-ton fishing boat saw two aircraft circling at low altitude and plumes rising from the water’s surface at around 3:55 p.m. Tuesday some 130 km north of the town of Kami.

The crew said they saw five columns of water rising several km away from the boat. But the Defense Agency said flares do not produce such plumes even if they hit water, and the fishermen could have mistaken smoke from the flares for plumes.

After receiving the report from the fishermen, the prefectural government issued orders at 7 p.m. for all fishing boats to leave the area.

According to the Defense Agency, it is not legally required to give prior notice to local governments of drills if they do not involve actual missile launches.

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