Japan’s WWII Dead Recovered from Sunken Ship in Micronesia; Diver Photos of Remains on Social Media Seen as Problem

Manabu Kato / The Yomiuri Shimbun
Tourist divers gather around the Aikoku Maru, where skulls and other remains are seen, in the Federated States of Micronesia on Monday. The remains were later collected by divers contracted by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.
The Yomiuri Shimbun

FEDERATED STATES OF MICRONESIA — Divers have recovered remains of those killed in the Pacific War from the sunken Japanese ship Aikoku Maru for the first time in 30 years. The recovery follows similar dives on other sunken ships as part of a project by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

The ministry is strengthening its efforts to collect war dead remains as divers in recent years have posted photos of them on social media, where they have spread. Divers were also seen gathering around the remains at the site on Monday.

The Chuuk Islands, formerly Truk Islands, are now part of the Chuuk State of the Federated States of Micronesia. The Japanese Combined Fleet had a base on the islands during the war, and about 40 of its ships were sunk during a U.S. aircraft carrier strike group attack from February 17 to 18 in 1944. The Aikoku Maru, a civilian ship that had been requisitioned by the military, was one of these ships. The remains of 349 people were recovered in the 1980s, and six more were recovered in 1994, according to the ministry.

The ministry works to recover undersea remains whenever it becomes aware of cases that jeopardize the dignity of the war dead, such as through exposure to divers. The current survey, being conducted from June 13 until Thursday, is part of that effort. The remains of 16 people from the Aikoku Maru and one person from another ship had been recovered as of Monday. What appeared to be the remains of many others have been discovered at the Aikoku Maru, and the ministry is hurrying to collect them.

The ministry will bring the remains back to Japan and use DNA testing to determine their identities.

As of last fiscal year, only 685 remains from ships sunk in past wars had been recovered, and an estimated 300,000 remains still lie at sea.