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The Maritime Self-Defense Force’s 5,200-ton helicopter destroyer Kurama collided Tuesday night with the oncoming 7,400-ton Carina Star, a South Korean containership, in a 700-meter-wide bottleneck of Kanmon Strait, between Honshu and Kyushu. Fortunately, the 5-inch gun ammunition compartment on the Kurama did not ignite, but a storehouse of paint cans in the bow section caught fire. The accident highlighted the dangers of narrow passages at sea. Six Kurama crew members were slightly injured, the only casualties. The Japan Coast Guard must carry out a thorough investigation and disclose its findings without delay.

The accident was reminiscent of the Feb. 19, 2008, collision between the MSDF’s 7,700-ton Aegis destroyer Atago and a small fishing boat off Cape Nojima, Chiba Prefecture, which killed two fishermen. In May 2009, an MSDF investigation panel’s report attributed the accident to insufficient watch by the Atago’s crew. Moreover, 1 1/2 hours passed before then Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba was informed. The MSDF apparently learned a lesson from the Atago incident, as the defense minister, Toshimi Kitazawa, was informed about the Kurama incident within 15 minutes.

According to reports, following advice from a Coast Guard controller, the containership passed another ship on its port side, instead of on the starboard side, before entering the Kurama’s path. Investigators must determine to what extent the accident was linked to the controller’s advice.

All 297 Kurama crew members were reportedly on watch, since some 600 ships go through the bottleneck every day. Investigators should find out whether the watch was sufficient and whether the containership and the destroyer took appropriate actions to avoid a collision.

The MSDF must maintain the highest level of discipline regardless. In January, the MSDF’s 2,700-ton submarine Oyashio scraped a fishing boat in Kagoshima Bay. And, in June, the same vessel cut cables of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency’s 10,395-ton ocean research ship Shigen, 28 km east of Shimokita Peninsula, Aomori Prefecture.

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