• Kyodo

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Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Saturday pledged to address in good faith a request for compensation from fishermen whose business was hurt by the fuel dumped by a U.S. fighter jet ahead of an emergency landing near the town of Tohoku in Aomori Prefecture.

“We take very seriously that the fishermen have been forced to halt operations. We will deal sincerely and appropriately with compensation,” Onodera said in a meeting with Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura in Misawa, home to a major U.S. military base.

“We have caused trouble to the people … of Tohoku and Aomori Prefecture,” Onodera added.

On Tuesday, an F-16 from Misawa Air Base dumped two auxilliary fuel tanks into Lake Ogawara after developing an engine fire, forcing fishermen to halt operations.

After the meetning, the governor urged the Maritime Self-Defense Force to complete the task of locating the dumped tanks.

“The defense minister promised compensation faithfully,” he said. “Now we want them to make sure they remove the tanks.”

An MSDF unit searching for the fuel tanks later recovered what appeared to be fragments on Saturday morning. U.S. forces confirmed they were pieces of the fuel tanks and wing connectors and brought them back to the base. According to the Aomori Prefectural Government, the parts were found in two spots at a depth of about 10 meters.

Onodera inspected the lake site after the meeting with the governor.

Under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, the United States must pay 75 percent of damages caused by official military duties, with Tokyo covering the rest if the U.S. alone is responsible.

The fuel dump is just the latest of several mishaps and accidents involving U.S. aircraft in Japan, mostly in Okinawa Prefecture, which hosts the bulk of American military facilities in the country.

On Friday afternoon, a U.S. helicopter flew over an elementary school adjacent to an unpopular U.S. Marine base in Okinawa despite a promise to avoid doing so, Japanese government sources and U.S. Forces Japan said.

The U.S. military made the promise after a window fell from a CH-53E chopper onto the grounds of the elementary school in December, nearly hitting some kids.

The marines admitted that a helicopter flew over Futenma No. 2 Elementary School on Friday and said an investigation is underway.

Although the military “voluntarily ceased flights over the school to the greatest extent possible, a U.S. helicopter inadvertently overflew the school at around 3:30 p.m. Friday,” U.S. Forces Japan said in a statement. “An investigation immediately began to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the overflight in order to prevent such flights from occurring again in the future.”

The Defense Ministry lodged a protest with the U.S. military last month for flying helicopters over the school, but the marines denied doing so at the time.

Local concerns have intensified over the repeated accidents and mishaps in the prefecture.

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