JCG captain ‘thought cannon wasn’t loaded’

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Miyakojima Coast Guard Office personnel conduct a search near the cannon on the Shimoji patrol vessel and on the ground nearby in Miyakojima, Okinawa Prefecture, on Wednesday.

In the wake of the accidental firing of a 20mm cannon by a Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel in Okinawa Prefecture, the JCG has said the vessel’s captain thought the cannon could be dry-fired, not realizing it was loaded.

The Shimoji patrol vessel, while anchored at a port on Irabu Island in Miyakojima, accidentally fired eight live rounds on Tuesday.

The Miyakojima Coast Guard Office stated Wednesday that the captain, who believed the cannon was not loaded, failed to follow the procedure for removing rounds from it, which led to the improper firing.

The JCG decided to suspend firing drills for all patrol vessels until it reviews the training manual and confirms safe practices.

The improper firing occurred Tuesday morning when seven personnel on board — including the captain, 52, a coast guard officer first grade — were conducting a training exercise in handling the cannon in preparation for an offshore firing drill scheduled for Wednesday, according to the JCG.

The personnel had loaded the cannon with live rounds for the next day’s firing drill, but the captain suddenly ordered them to conduct a handling drill of the cannon.

JCG personnel including the captain should have removed the rounds, as live ammunition is not used in the handling drill, but they failed to do so.

After the captain ordered the personnel to dry-fire, eight live rounds were fired in rapid succession into cliffs about 100 meters to the north.

The muzzle of the cannon was fitted with a metal stopper that is to be removed when firing live bullets. The stopper was shattered by the impact of the firing and the pieces are believed to have hit two vehicles and a motorcycle belonging to JCG employees parked near the quay. The vehicles sustained damage, including holes, but there were no people around them.

The JCG searched the area for bullets on Wednesday, but have yet to find any.

This was the first time that the Coast Guard mistakenly fired live rounds, the JCG said.

“This is an unprecedented situation. We apologize for the anxiety this has caused citizens,” Takuya Fukumoto, head of the Miyakojima Coast Guard Office, said.

Japan Coast Guard Commandant Shohei Ishii also apologized at a press conference Wednesday, saying: “This kind of incident should never have happened; it is deeply regrettable. We will re-ensure that our staff members will follow through safety management measures.”