U.S. Navy deflects call for explanation about damages to tuna fishing boats

U.S. Navy deflects call for explanation about damages to tuna fishing boats

U.S. Navy Ocean Surveillance Ship Impeccable (left) and a fishing boat belonging to the Okinawa Tuna Fishing Cooperative Association on the water, about 110 kilometers southwest from the main Island of Okinawa on May 21. (Photograph provided by the Okinawa Tuna Fishing Cooperative Association.)


June 10, 2014 Hideki Matsudo and Kenichi Yoshida of Ryukyu Shimpo

Members of the Okinawan fishing industry suspect the US Navy Ocean Surveillance Ship Impeccable was involved in cutting the trawl lines of seven tuna fishing boats in waters near the main Island of Okinawa. On June 9, a public affairs officer of Fleet Activities Okinawa of the U.S. Navy responded to the queries from Ryukyu Shimpo, “The U.S. Navy is aware of allegations by Japanese fishermen that USNS Impeccable damaged their fishing gear while operating in international waters southwest of Okinawa.” But, the U.S. Navy declined to say whether or not the ship was involved in the incidents. They contended, “Because the damage is alleged to have occurred in international waters, this is not a Status of Forces Agreement issue.” They also added “Anyone who thinks they have been injured or suffered property damage resulting from the operations of U.S. Department of the Navy vessels may submit a claim to the U.S. government via the Navy’s Office of the Judge Advocate General (Admiralty and Maritime Law). Such claims are adjudicated in accordance with U.S. maritime law and federal regulations. ”

Ryukyu Shimpo asked the U.S. Navy and U.S. Forces in Japan for a response on May 23 when the incidents were revealed. But, there was no answer from the U.S. military authorities. On June 9, Ryukyu Shimpo sent an e-mail with pictures of the Impeccable taken by the fishermen at the scene to U.S. military officials, again asking for a response. The U.S. Navy replied soon after with the above response.

On June 9, the Okinawa Tuna Fishing Cooperative Association, which has suffered the most damages, provided a videotape of the Impeccable taken by a fisherman from their fishing boat to the Okinawa Defense Bureau. They demanded full disclosure of the incidents. According to the tuna fishing cooperative association, there was no answer from the defense bureau as of June 8. Kiyoshi Ganeko, the president of the association said, “There is still no answer from the Okinawa Defense Bureau, despite two weeks having passed since the incidents occurred. We want the government organizations to acknowledge as soon as possible whether or not the U.S. vessel has cut off the longlines.”

On June 3, officials of the fisheries section of the Okinawa Prefectural Government and members of the Okinawa Tuna Fishing Cooperative Association visited the Okinawa Liaison Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to submit the photograph of the Impeccable. However, an office representative refused to accept it, saying that they could not do anything about the incidents because they took place on the high seas beyond the status of Forces Agreement between Japan and the United States.

Fisheries Agency say parties involved should talk to solve troubles. On June 9, the Fisheries Agency said, “If the parties involved in this case are identified, they should talk to solve the issue by themselves because it is a civil case. We will not intervene on this case.” They added, “Even if it turns out that the U.S. Navy vessel has cut off the longlines, the parties involved should determine the proper compensation for the damages by talking to each other.”

(English translation by T&CT)

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