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JMSA training, dedication, ensures safe seas

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-03-20

The 11th Regional Maritime Safety Headquarters has the task of guarding the waters surrounding Okinawa Prefecture. As part of the Japanese Maritime Safety Agency (JMSA), its mission is to ensure safety at sea, enforce all maritime laws, rescue ships and people in distress, protect the environment, maintain navigational aids systems, and conduct oceanographic research. Because of the large expanse of territory to cover and Okinawa's close proximity to other Asian countries, the men and women of the 11th Regional Maritime Safety Headquarters must be alert and well trained to perform their job.

Foreigners trying to make their way into Japan illegally via Okinawa have always been a major concern for the JMSA. Ships carrying Chinese immigrants have been intercepted many times, and trying to make sure no one gets injured in the process adds to the difficulty of the problem. Although illegal entry into Japan is always something the 11th Regional Maritime Safety Headquarters must try to prevent, the amount of immigrants trying to land on Okinawa's shores has been decreasing slightly over the years.

One problem that is on the rise, is the amount of illegal firearms and drugs being smuggled into the country. Much of the contraband is seized at sea, and Okinawa is no exception. Smugglers will often resort to dangerous maneuvers with their boats to evade being caught, endangering the lives of both themselves and JMSA crew members. Boarding a vessel for search and seizure also increases the risk of danger, but because of the amount of training exercises each crew member undertake, most cases are handled without incident.

Another major concern for the 11th Regional Maritime Safety Headquarters is foreign fishing vessels poaching inside of Japanese territorial waters. Many of Okinawa's islands are very close to Taiwan and other Southeast Asian countries, and the JMSA must constantly patrol these areas. Some of the larger ships of the JMSA will stay out at sea for weeks at a time, conducting surveillance and keeping an eye out for ships performing illegal activities. A combination of sea and air craft help the JMSA to perform their job and expel a vessel from territorial waters if necessary.

Besides providing law and order at sea, the JMSA also makes sure that the sea is safe for navigation. This includes maintaining a variety of navigational aids, such as lighthouses and light buoys. The JMSA also provides many nautical maps and hydrographic charts. In addition to navigational aids, oceanographic data such as sea temperature, weather patterns, and sea bottom topography is also recorded and shared with mariners. Much of the information is collected through the Japan Oceanographic Data Center (JODC), which is a specialized section of the JMSA.

The JMSA is also very much involved with educating the general public about marine safety. Unfortunately, the popularity of marine sports and boating has brought with it an increase in water related accidents. To combat the problem here in Okinawa, the 11th Regional Maritime Safety Headquarters holds annual casualty-prevention classes, where they perform rescue demonstrations and also train locals in CPR and emergency first aid. Officials claim that they are worried about the amount of jet skis being operated too close to swimming areas, and have stepped up safety campaigns as a countermeasure.

With relative peace in the region and less foreigners attempting to enter Okinawa by sea illegally, the 11th Regional Maritime Safety Headquarters has been able to focus more attention on environmental problems and on oceanographic research recently. By analyzing collected water samples, the JMSA is now able to track down the origin of released oil and other chemicals into the sea. They have worked closely together with other NGO's in preserving the marine environment and making sure pleasure boats also follow certain rules. Much of the research conducted is shared internationally to provide more information to the growing data base on oceanographic studies.

During this last decade, the 11th Regional Maritime Safety Headquarters has tried to form a closer relationship with the general public. It has been very active in promoting the national holiday "Ocean Day", and provides many local events to promote a greater appreciation for the sea.

In order to keep the seas safe for everyone, witnesses to any marine related accidents or illegal activities are asked to report them immediately by calling 866-0083.

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