• JIJI, Kyodo

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Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko mourned on Monday tens of thousands of civilian mariners who lost their lives in attacks by the Allied powers during World War II.

The Emperor, who will abdicate in April, and his wife prayed for peace and offered a bouquet of white chrysanthemums at a cenotaph in Kannonzaki Park in the port city of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, before traveling to the Imperial villa in Hayama. They will return to Tokyo on Friday.

During the war, most civilian vessels were requisitioned by the military, and their crews were forced to transport weapons or conduct maritime surveillance. Few battleships were available to defend them, leaving them vulnerable to attacks by the Allied forces.

More than 2,000 ships were destroyed and 60,000 people were killed, according to the government and a Tokyo-based foundation honoring sailors who died in the line of duty.

Around 30 percent of the victims were in their teens, they said.

It was the Imperial Couple’s eighth visit to the memorial. They first visited when they attended the memorial service held to mark the establishment of the cenotaph in 1971, when they were Crown Prince and Crown Princess.

Emperor Akihito touched on the subject of the sailors during a news conference prior to his birthday in 2015.

“As an example of nonmilitary people who sacrificed their lives in the war, the sailors who served on civilian vessels come to mind,” he said. “These people, who may have dreamed of one day becoming sailors on international routes, went to work as crews of civilian ships that had been requisitioned to transport soldiers and military goods, and lost their lives in enemy attacks.”

“In those days, Japan lacked command of the air and no battleships were available to escort the transport vessels. It gives me great pain to think of the feelings of the sailors who had to engage in transport operations under such conditions.”

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