National / Politics

Allies agree to quick access for Japan officials to U.S. military accident sites, but consent still required

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Tokyo and Washington revised a set of 2005 guidelines Thursday that deal with off-base U.S. military aircraft accidents in Japan to allow for the “expeditious early entry” of Japanese officials into an inner cordoned off area to be set up around the wreckage, the Foreign Ministry said.

However, even under the revised guidelines, U.S. consent would still be required for Japanese investigators to enter the area.

Under the Status of Forces Agreement, Japanese authorities do not have the right to investigate U.S. military aircraft accidents. Without consent of the U.S. military, Japanese officials are not allowed to even enter cordoned off areas set up by the U.S.

The Okinawa Prefectural Government, which has long dealt with issues related to the heavy U.S. military presence in the prefecture, has noted that the American military usually bans locals and Japanese investigators from approaching and investigating the wreckage of U.S. military aircraft that crash outside bases. Okinawa hosts the largest share of U.S. military bases in Japan.

According to a report published by the prefectural government in April, at least four European countries — Britain, Belgium, Germany and Italy — have stronger control over operations of U.S. military forces in their countries compared to Japan.

For example, British police controlled the area of an aircraft accident in January 2014, in which a U.S. HH-60G helicopter crashed. Any off-base accident of U.S. military aircraft in Britain will be similarly dealt with, according to the report.