Probe Reveals Lack of Safety Awareness among MSDF Officers

Human error by a Maritime Self-Defense Force captain and crew was the cause of an accident on a destroyer. It is an extremely alarming situation. The MSDF must take thorough measures to prevent a recurrence and do everything it can to regain trust.

The MSDF has released the findings of its investigation into a January accident in which the destroyer Inazuma ran aground off Suo-Oshima, Yamaguchi Prefecture, and was subsequently unable to navigate on its own.

According to the probe, a lieutenant and another officer responsible for navigation did not appropriately check a chart for obstacles. The captain did not notice the officers’ mistake and was unaware there were shoals in the area they were navigating through. The captain also issued inappropriate commands, operating the destroyer at a maximum speed even though other vessels were also sailing in the area, among other missteps.

Before a destroyer sets sail, a meeting is usually held for chart checks. However, such a meeting was not held before the Inazuma’s operations, a fact that was overlooked by a lieutenant commander in charge of safety control.

MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Ryo Sakai apologized at a press conference, saying, “The crew did not observe the basics of navigation.”

Destroyers play an important role in maritime defense, providing protection from enemy vessels and fighter aircraft. The lack of safety awareness of the captain and crew regarding the operation of the ship is astounding.

The area where the Inazuma ran aground is a fertile fishing ground. Navigating the destroyer at high speed could have ended in a collision with a fishing boat or another vessel. It was fortunate that there were no injuries in the accident.

The MSDF should take the incident seriously and strictly discipline the officers involved.

The accident caused damage to some of the Inazuma’s propeller blades and its sonar dome, which is mainly used to detect submarines. It will cost about ¥4 billion to conduct repairs, which will take several years to complete, according to the MSDF.

The security environment surrounding Japan has been deteriorating. Having a destroyer out of service for several years is a blow. It is hoped that the MSDF will take all possible measures to ensure there are no gaps in defense.

As part of measures to prevent a recurrence, the MSDF said it will review a training program for captains and improve those for crew members.

It is important for the MSDF to learn from this accident and use every possible opportunity to improve its safety management system.

In April, a Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter disappeared while flying near Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture and was later discovered on the seabed. The bodies of six of the 10 personnel on board have been recovered. The remaining four are still missing.

The crashed helicopter belonged to the GSDF’s 8th Division, which would be deployed in the event of an emergency. It is a huge shock that a helicopter from a unit with such an important mission was involved in an accident in the middle of the day when the weather was clear.

The recovered wreckage was damaged beyond recognition, but the aircraft’s flight recorder, which logs flying positions and altitudes, has been retrieved. The GSDF must analyze the data as soon as possible to determine the cause of the crash.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 13, 2023)