YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Prosecutors on Tuesday charged two Maritime Self-Defense Force officers in connection with the fatal 2008 collision between their destroyer and a fishing boat that claimed the boat’s father-son crew.
Lt. Cmdrs. Keitaro Ushirogata and Tomohisa Nagaiwa were indicted without arrest over the collision, prosecutors said.
Ushirogata, 36, was the chief watch officer aboard the 7,750-ton Atago just before its predawn collision with the 7.3-ton Seitoku Maru in February 2008.
Nagaiwa, 35, had relieved Ushirogata and was on watch at the actual time of the collision.
Ushirogata’s indictment is considered unusual because crew members not actually operating a ship at the time of a collision rarely face charges. However, the prosecutors decided to also indict him because they believe an overlapping of errors by the two officers led to the collision.
Tuesday’s indictments were the first involving MSDF officers since a 1988 collision in Tokyo Bay between the 2,250-ton MSDF submarine Nadashio and the charter fishing boat Fujisan Maru No. 1, which sank with the loss of 30 lives.
After that collision, the sub’s skipper was indicted and given a suspended prison term.
The Yokohama District Public Prosecutor’s Office has charged both Ushirogata and Nagaiwa with professional negligence that endangered maritime traffic and resulted in the death of the two fishermen.
The prosecutors said the destroyer failed to maintain a proper watch and reacted too late to avoid the collision.
Their conclusion was reached about 10 months after they received an investigative report from the Japan Coast Guard on Nagaiwa and Ushirogata in June 2008.
In Tokyo, MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Keiji Akahoshi told reporters that the navy will treat the prosecution’s actions very seriously.
The MSDF will continue utmost efforts to ensure safety and prevent a recurrence of a similar accident, he said.
The Atago, which is equipped with the sophisticated Aegis air defense system, collided with the Seitoku Maru off Cape Nojima on the tip of the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture in the early hours of Feb. 19, 2008.
Following the collision, the two fishermen on the Seitoku Maru — Haruo Kichisei, 58, and his 23-year-old son, Tetsuhiro — were missing and later declared dead.
Ushirogata, the chief navigator, was the chief watch officer just before the collision, while Nagaiwa, the chief antisubmarine warfare officer, had just relieved him before the collision.
In January, the Yokohama Marine Accident Tribunal, a government body that looks into the cause of sea disasters and takes administrative action, issued a decision blaming the Atago for the collision, saying an improper watch on the part of the destroyer was the main cause of the collision.
The marine accident tribunal judged that Nagaiwa’s insufficient watch was the main cause, but did not recognize any causal relationship between the collision and Ushirogata’s actions.
It also said the fishing boat was partially responsible because it failed to issue a warning signal and take action to avoid the collision. The decision has already been finalized.
In that administrative decision, the inquiry panel recommended that the 3rd Escort Division of the 3rd Escort Flotilla in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, to which the Atago belongs, provide thorough instruction on safe navigation.
Under the Penal Code, a person who fails to exercise due care required in the pursuit of social activities and thereby causes the death or injury of another can face a prison term of up to five years.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.