NAHA, Okinawa Pref. – Despite interference from protesters, divers on Friday began a preliminary survey of waters off the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab in Nago that the government needs to relocate a U.S. Marine Corps facility in Okinawa.
Divers from the Defense Facilities Administration Agency’s Naha bureau, assisted by the Maritime Self-Defense Force, placed devices in the area where a replacement facility is to be built.
Japan Coast Guard boats were patrolling the area as the work began around 7:30 a.m. to prevent the protesters from impeding the divers. The process of setting up the devices is expected to take three to four days.
The survey involves examining the habitat of coral reefs ahead of the full environmental impact assessment that will precede the relocation of Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to Nago to the north.
Under an agreement reached with the United States in May 2006, the Japanese government plans to build an airfield with two runways on the coast of Camp Schwab and a new landfill by 2014 as a replacement for the Futenma base.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who was on a visit to Tokyo on Friday, told reporters it was understandable that members of the Self-Defense Forces with technical expertise would take part in a Defense Ministry survey.
However, he also said that “It is insensitive that a ship came with them.” He was referring to the minesweeper tender the MSDF dispatched along with the divers to facilitate the operation.
Using small boats, activists and local residents opposed to the survey went around the coast guard vessels and survey ships in an attempt to stop the divers.
Discussing the rarity of SDF participation in environmental survey work, Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma said the situation came about after the defense facilities agency, which is in charge of conducting the survey, asked the Defense Ministry for the MSDF’s aid.
“We can do various kinds of things in terms of intragovernment cooperation,” Kyuma said at a press conference in Tokyo, referring to the national government organization law, which allows cooperation between different government offices.
“It is odd for us not to cooperate on a matter within the ministry when it is possible for government organs to cooperate with each other,” he added. The defense facilities agency falls under the jurisdiction of the defense minister.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki emphasized that many people need to be involved in setting up the underwater equipment to make sure the survey is conducted smoothly and on time.
The defense facility agency’s regional bureau began preparing for the preliminary survey on April 24, when Nakaima agreed to allow it.
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