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Both Japanese and U.S. officials are shirking their responsibilities in connection with last weekend’s sinking of a Japanese fisheries training ship off Honolulu following a collision with a U.S. nuclear submarine. The training ship Ehime Maru, of Uwajima Fisheries High School, went down after colliding with the USS Greeneville.

U.S. officials say the accident occurred in waters crowded with U.S. naval traffic going to and from Pearl Harbor. But the area is also congested with civilian vessels. It is unconscionable that the submarine was conducting a dangerous emergency surfacing drill in such busy waters. Furthermore, investigations reportedly showed that the submarine failed to use active sonar before rapidly ascending, as required, to verify whether surface ships were present. It also failed to use its periscope to see if the surface was clear. Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force officials say a similar accident involving a Japanese submarine would never happen.

The submarine crew reportedly conducted the rapid-surfacing drill to show their skills to civilian guests who were on board for a demonstration cruise. Nuclear submarines, which still play a major role in U.S. naval power, were a crucial part of America’s nuclear deterrent in the Cold War era but their value has decreased in recent years. The Greeneville crew reportedly failed to try to rescue the crew of the Japanese training ship. This is highly deplorable from a humanitarian standpoint. U.S. authorities have also been slow in staging large-scale rescue efforts and investigating the cause of the accident. Furthermore, there has been little progress in efforts to raise the sunken ship.

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s conduct in connection with the disaster was also disturbing. Mori reportedly received the first report on the Feb. 10 sinking while playing golf with friends. But he continued to play and did not return to the prime minister’s official residence for four hours. The accident was a disaster that could have developed into a major diplomatic issue between Japan and the United States. I wonder if any of the prime minister’s friends urged him to return to his official residence to deal with the crisis. Even leaders of New Komeito, the junior partner in the coalition government led by the Liberal Democratic Party, criticized Mori the following day for failing to lead crisis-management efforts.

The problem is not merely Mori’s failure to deal with the crisis but also his total disregard for human lives. Mori said the accident had nothing to with crisis management. How can he say the accident was not a crisis-management issue? The disaster showed that Mori, who has often been accused of lacking sound political judgment, is also lacking in humanitarian considerations. His fitness as a national leader is in serious doubt.

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