YOKOSUKA, Kanagawa Pref. (Kyodo) The Maritime Self-Defense Force opened its first helicopter-carrying destroyer to the public Saturday at Yokosuka naval base in Kanagawa Prefecture.

Long lines had formed before the base opened its gates at 9:30 a.m. for the one-day event. The base was expecting about 10,000 visitors to board the 13,950-ton Hyuga, which can carry up to 11 helicopters.

A 37-year-old employee from the city of Chiba said he was impressed by its size.

“It’s really big. I was impressed that I could see it up close,” he said.

The 197-meter-long ship also allows up to four helicopters, such as SH-60K antisubmarine helicopters, to take off and land almost simultaneously.

The Hyuga has a crew of roughly 340, including 17 women, the first to serve aboard a destroyer since the Self-Defense Forces were established in 1954.

The MSDF said it decided to open up the Hyuga partly because many local residents were hankering to see it.

“We’d like to demonstrate our capability of commanding rescue activities using helicopters and the communications system (of the destroyer) in the event of a large-scale natural disaster, in addition to the maritime defense mission,” a MSDF official said.

The Hyuga was commissioned on March 18 after a ceremony at a shipyard in Yokohama. It has yet to undergo a full-fledged drill.

In response to public concerns that the ship is essentially an aircraft carrier, the government has said that it recognizes Japan cannot possess offensive aircraft carriers under the pacifist Constitution, and denies the Hyuga is an aircraft carrier because it lacks offensive capabilities, such as attack aircraft.

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