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On the evening of Sept. 5, the Vulcan 20 mm machine gun on a Maritime Self-Defense Force high-speed missile boat was accidentally fired at the Ominato base in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture. At least one of the 10 rounds hit a tree a mere 12 meters from a house. Only through sheer good luck were injuries or death avoided.

The incident involved the 50-ton missile boat No. 3. During a firing exercise earlier that day in the Sea of Japan a problem was detected with the boat’s gun and repairs were carried out after the vessel returned to base. It was then that 10 shells, including four live rounds, were accidentally fired.

It appears that crew members failed to follow established safety procedures. After guns are fired or repaired, crew members are supposed to check whether any rounds remain in the magazines. Following the Sept. 5 firing exercise, a gunner failed to make sure the magazine was empty. After the gun was repaired, again no one apparently checked the magazine.

MSDF members must be instructed to strictly follow safety procedures. MSDF authorities should determine exactly how and why the gun was fired as well as scrutinize safety manuals and determine whether they suffice as currently written.

In the Ground Self-Defense Force, a 5.56 mm machine gun on an armored vehicle in Samawah, Iraq, accidentally fired two rounds in May 2004. The incident was not reported to the Defense Agency. Although no violation of internal rules was committed, the commander should have reported it in view of the special character of the mission.

The Sept. 5 gun incident follows a case in February when a noncommissioned officer copied MSDF data to his home computer and it was subsequently leaked onto the Internet. The MSDF must do its utmost to improve organizational discipline.

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