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Protesters don’t stop divers surveying Henoko’s Oura Bay

Date Posted: 2007-05-24

Japanese divers are now conducting an environmental assessment needed before construction can begin on a new military airfield at Nago City’s Henoko area.

The Defense Facilities Administration Agency’s divers, assisted by the Maritime Self Defense Force, were not deterred by protesters as they began setting up survey instruments and sensors in the waters adjacent to Camp Schwab. The U.S. Marine Base on Okinawa’s northeast coast is forecast to be the site for a military airfield with two V-shape runways that will replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in Ginowan.

Japan Coast Guard boats moved in Friday morning to protect divers as they set about their mission, making sure protesters would not interfere with survey activities. Divers will study the coral reefs in advance of a full environmental impact study to be done soon. Japan and the U.S. agreed last year to build a landfill and then a new airfield not later than 2014. The preliminary assessment is expected to be complete this week.

The Maritime Self Defense Force brought a ship to Okinawa to participate in the project, a move criticized by Okinawa Governor Hirokazu Nakaima. While expressing understanding that the MSDF would be involved in the study, he said “it is insensitive that a ship came with them,” referring the minesweeper tender boat that accompanied the dive teams.

Local activists, protesters and unhappy Nago area residents took to small boats in an attempt to circumvent the Japan Coast Guard, and tried to interfere with the divers’ work. Their efforts were thwarted by the Coast Guard.

Japan’s Defense Minister says it shouldn’t surprise anyone that “we do various things in terms of intra-government cooperation,” saying the MSDF should be working with the defense facilities team. Fumio Kyuma says it would be “odd for us not to cooperate on a matter within the ministry, when it is possible for government agencies to cooperate with each other.”

An agreement with Governor Nakaima last month set the stage for divers from the DFAA regional bureau to begin the preliminary survey.

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