2017年10月22日日曜日

The U.S Military Resumes CH-53 Flight Operations and Issues (Damage Control) Media Release

While the residents of the Takae district, Higashi village and the people of Okinawa are still shaken and infuriated by the October 11 crash of a U.S military CH-53 helicopter in the district, and although the cause of the crash has not been determined, the U.S. military resumed the flight operations of the aircraft on October 18. See Kyodo News

Following a 96-hour suspension of flight operations, the U.S. military’s CH-53 helicopters are back in the Okinawa sky, flying over our houses, schools, hospitals, forests and sea as if nothing has happened. 


©KYODO

The Japanese government, Okinawa prefectural government and local municipalities have demanded that the operations of the CH-53 aircraft be suspended indefinitely until the cause of the crash is determined, but to no avail. See The Japan Times

The lopsided power relationships among the U.S. military, Japan and Okinawa have prevailed again. Our lives and environment are in danger. Many of us feel we are under colonial and military occupation.



U.S. Military’s Media Release
Before resuming the operation of CH-53 helicopters, the U.S. military issued a media release, providing explanations for its actions. See the Media Release.

In our opinion, the media release reads like a damage control PR statement, directed to (the rest of) the  U.S. military and U.S. government and probably to the U.S. public, but not to the people of Okinawa (It is written in English and we have not seen a Japanese translation of it yet).

It states:

“Aviation experts have conducted a thorough review of the maintenance records and found no issues with the standard maintenance practices, actions, technical directives, periodic inspections and no operational matters to warrant concern.”

“The Commanding General, Marine Corps Forces Japan, Lt. Gen. Lawrence D. Nicholson, is satisfied that the CH-53E aircraft is prepared to return to safe flight operations.”

“This decision is not taken lightly, and was only decided upon following consultation with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing aviation professionals, and subject matter experts from the U.S. Naval Safety Center who arrived on Okinawa from the continental United States to assist in the overall investigation.”

Apparently, conducting “a thorough review of the maintenance records” (underline added) and fining "no issues" in the review were enough to resume CH-53 flight operations.

Since we are no aviation experts, we are not in a position to make a judgment about the U.S. military’s review process or decisions per se. Still, we can point out that we have not seen any report or written document from the military's “aviation experts” substantiating what the U.S. military claims in the media release.


"Working Closely" with Who?
What concerns us the most is the misleading nature of the media release. 

It states that “Working closely with Government of Japan and local officials, we are conducting salvage and recovery operations of the aircraft quickly and safely to return the land as soon as possible.”

However, the Okinawa prefectural government and the Okinawa prefectural police force (and possibly the Japanese government)  were all denied by the U.S. military access to the crash site to conduct investigation, apparently in accordance with the Japan-US Status of Forces Agreement, when the crash took place. See The Japan Times

It was only more than a week later the crash or after the U.S. military had salvaged the burned CH-53 and its debries and had removed away the surface soil of the crash site (without the land owner’s consent and despite the Okinawa police force’s request not to do so) that the Japanese and Okinawa governments were given access to conduct investigation. See The Okinawa Times (in Japanese).  Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga and his prefectural government are infuriated with the way the U.S. military has been handling the case.


©The Okinawa Times

Thus, it is hard to be convinced by the U.S. military claim that it is “working closely with Government of Japan and local officials” unless the words “working closely” now mean “forcing one's action upon someone else."

And, how much information could the Okinawa prefectural governments and the prefectural police force get from their site investigation now?


"Sharing Information"?
It is no doubt that the U.S. military is better equipped to conduct investigation on military accidents such as this case than the Japanese government, the Okinawa prefectural government and the prefectural police force are. In this regard, we hope that the U.S. military is conducting a thorough and transparent investigation on the case and will be forthcoming with the results.

We are alarmed however when the U.S. military’s media release states that “We will continue to share information with the government of Japan as details become available and in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement.”

In Okinawa, the Japanese government has been known to withhold from the public information relating to U.S. military bases and facilities even when the U.S. military provides it.

For example, the Japanese government withheld information on the deployment of MV-22 Ospreys to Okinawa and information on the flight routes of aircrafts expected to operate at a proposed military base and on the construction plan of a 214-meter wharf at  in Henoko-Oura Bay, as long as it could to get what it wanted. See The Japan Times.

In the past, in fact, the extent to which the Japanese government tried to withhold information was so alarming that the U.S. military claimed in a memorandum that “the JDA [Japan Defense Agency] appeared adamant that they did not want to depict flight paths over land” and that “ the US feels the need to be open with the local Okinawans because their acceptance of the plan is tied to the operational requirement of building the airfield.”  See this Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus article.

Thus, the U.S. military’s assertion that it “will continue to share information with the government of Japan as details become available” does not give assurance or comfort to the people of Okinawa. Instead, it just alarms us more.


Access to information, Public Participation and Access to Justice
As the Aarhus Convention affirms (See this site), the protection of the environment requires the so-called three pillars: “access to information,” “public participation in decision-making,” and “access to justice in environmental matters.”


In Okinawa, as illustrated above, these three pillars remain as illusive as ever when U.S. military is involved. (Besides, the Japanese government has not ratified the Aarhus Convetion for whaever reason.)

Still, we have to keep fighting to gain and secure the rights to “access to information,” “public participatin in decision-making,” and “access to justice in environmetal matters.”

We need and welcome your support for our fight!












2017年10月11日水曜日

Yanbaru Forest in Danger: US Military Helicopter on Fire near World Natural Heritage Nominated Area

In just a few days, members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will conduct a much-anticipated field mission in the Yanbaru forest in northern Okinawa Island as part of the UNESCO/IUCN's evaluation process for the forest's bid for World Natural Heritage status. 

Guess what has just happened in the Takae district of Hiagashi village, near the World Heritage nominated area?


At around 17:30 on October 11,  a U.S. military CH 53 helicopter made an emergency landing and caught fire in an open land in Takae. As of 20:00, the fire and smoke are flaring in the darkness of the night. See this NHK site (Japanese). Also see this New York Times site.



© Okinawa Times 

It is not clear whether the helicopter was either coming back from or was going to the U.S. military's Northern Training Area (NTA) when it made its emergency landing. NTA is located just next to the World Natural Heritage nominated area. 

I have no information on the status of the crew who were on the CH 53 aircraft. I hope they evacuated safely in time. I have no information on the extent of the damage the accident has caused on the area.


Luckily, no one in Takae was hurt, a friend in Takae told me on the phone.

This brings me to what I originally planned to upload on this blog today: Our factsheets "A World Natural Heritage Site next to U.S. Military's Training Area?: The Case of Northern Part of Okinawa Island, Japan." I have submitted them to the members of the IUCN field mission.

The factsheets warned and predicted this unfortunate helicopter crash.  

H.Y.


Factsheets

A World Natural Heritage Site next to U.S. Military’s Training Area?: 
The Case of Northern Part of Okinawa Island, Japan

In February 2017, the Japanese government nominated the Northern Part of Okinawa Island (NPOI), along with Amami-Oshima Island, Tokunoshima Island, and Iriomote Island for UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage (WNH). IUCN has begun its evaluation process for these nominated sites. Serious concerns have been raised, however. Not only is NPOI located just next to U.S. military’s Northern Training Area (NTA), but also the Japanese government failed to properly address in its nomination dossier submitted to UNESCO the presence and operation of NTA. Below are some important facts and issues regarding NTA and suggestions for IUCN and UNESCO evaluation teams.

Northern Training Area (NTA)
The U.S. military’s 3,900 hectares “Northern Training Area” (NTA) is located just next to NPOI. See Figure 1.
NTA is used for “jungle warfare training” and low altitude “terrain flight training” of MV-22 Osprey and other aircraft.[1]  It is used in conjunction with other military bases and training areas in Okinawa as U.S. military conducts flight training between bases and training areas. See Figure 2.
NTA is home to many endangered species including endemic and Japan’s “Natural Monuments” Okinawa rail (Gallirallis okinawae) and the Pryer’s woodpecker (Sapheopipo noguchii).[2]  See Figure 3.    
Forest fires and aircraft crashes occur in and around NTA, damaging the environment and threatening the lives of local residents.[3]
In December 2016, amidst protest, the construction of six new aircraft landing zones was completed in environmentally sensitive areas of NTA. Environmental impacts on areas outside NTA from the construction and operation of the new landing zones have been reported.[4]
In December 2016, the U.S. military returned 4, 000 hectares of land formally used as part of NTA, reducing the area of NTA to the present 3,900 hectares. The U.S. military notes however that “this transfer of lands places the same amount of training on a smaller land base, which may create the possibility of increased adverse effects (p.113).”[5]


The U.S. Military’s Control over NTA
The U.S. military, not the Japanese government, has exclusive control over NTA and other U.S. military bases and training areas in Okinawa.[6] This means, when a forest fire or an aircraft crash occurs in NTA, the Japanese government or local authorities cannot enter NTA to conduct fire fighting operation or damage survey.
It is unknown whether and how the U.S. military’s exclusive control over NTA affects the Japanese government’s management of NPOI as a WNH site.

IUCN Efforts and Results
In IUCN Recommendation 2.72, IUCN requested the Japanese government to nominate the Yambaru forest (northern part of Okinawa Island) for WNH status.
The Japanese government fulfilled this part of the recommendation as it nominated NPOI as a WNH site.
In IUCN Recommendations 2.72 and 3.114, IUCN requested the Japanese and U.S. governments to conduct proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the construction of landing zones in NTA. The Japanese government conducted its EIA and the U.S. military conducted an “Environmental Review” (ER) regarding the operation of MV-22 Osprey aircraft in NTA.[7]
These EIA and ER have been challenged by experts and NGOs. In fact, in November 2016, Okinawa Prefectural Government asked the Japanese government to redo an EIA regarding the construction of landing zones. The Japanese government declined to do so however.


Problem of Silence
The Japanese government’s WNH nomination dossier failed to properly address the facts and issues mentioned above[8], undermining the scientific values of the dossier itself and making it extremely difficult for IUCN and UNESCO to conduct proper evaluation regarding NPOI.  
The dossier failed to incorporate any NTA-related documents produced by the U.S. military including Integrated Natural Resources and Cultural Resources Management Plan (2014) and Survey on Okinawa Rail at Jungle Warfare Training Center (2010).[9] These documents are informative of the natural environment of NTA and management efforts put forth by the U.S. military although their primary objectives are to support the U.S. military’s training environment. See Figure 3.
The Japanese environment ministry told NGOs that it did not include these facts and issues in the dossier because “the Japanese government has no control or jurisdiction over NTA.”[10]
The U.S. military and U.S. government have not made public their stances on the WNH nomination of NPOI in relation to NTR: It is not known whether they support the nomination or not.[11] See Attached document.

Suggestions for IUCN and UNESCO evaluation teams
IUCN and UNESCO evaluation teams recognize the U.S. military and U.S. government as important stakeholders in the nomination and inscription of NPOI for WNH.
IUCN and UNESCO request the Japanese government to include information on NTA provided by the U.S. military into its WNH nomination dossier.
IUCN and UNESCO evaluation teams, as well as the Japanese government, request the U.S. military and U.S. government to take part in and to support the inscription process of NPOI for WNH. 



For Further Information, please Contact:
      Hideki Yoshikawa
      Director, Okinawan Environmental Justice Project
      Email: yhidekiy@gmail.com
      Website: http://okinawaejp.blogspot.jp/


1. For general description of military training in NTA, see “Chapter 9-Camp Gonsalves/ Jungle Warfare Training Center” in Final Integrated Natural Resources and Cultural Resources Management Plan (2014), Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, MCIPAC Installations Okinawa, Japan. For description of MV-22 Osprey Aircraft training in NTA, see Environmental Review for Basing MV-22 Aircraft at MCAS Futenma and Operating in Japan (2012), Department of the Navy and the United States Marine Corps and Marine Corps Installation Command Pacific.  
2. See “Chapter 9-Camp Gonsalves/ Jungle Warfare Training Center” in Final Integrated Natural Resources and Cultural Resources Management Plan (2014), Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, MCIPAC Installations Okinawa, Japan.
3. See Okinawa no beigun kichi [U.S. military bases in Okinawa] (2013), Military Base Affairs Division, Executive Office of the Governor, Okinawa Prefectural Government.
4. Miyagi, Akino 2017, “Yanbaruno dobutsu to seibutsu tayosei: Takae Aha de hakkenshita kisho dobutsu to heripado kensetsu ga dobutsu ni ataeta eikyo [Animals and the biodiversity in Yanbaru (Northern Okinawa Islanad): Rare Anmials Found in Takae and Awa areas, Higashi KUnigami, Okinawa and Actual Damages on the Aimals by Construction of Osprey Pad[s]]” in Nihon no kagakusha /Journal of Japanese Scientists, 52 (4), pp. 192-197. 

5. See “Chapter 9-Camp Gonsalves/ Jungle Warfare Training Center” in Final Integrated Natural Resources and Cultural Resources Management Plan (2014), Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, MCIPAC Installations Okinawa, Japan.
6. Article II-I (a) of the Status of Armed Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Japan stipulates that “[t]he United State is granted, under Article VI of the Treaty Mutual Cooperation and Security, the use of facilities and areas in Japan.”  Article III of SOFA stipulates that “[w]ithin the facilities and areas, the United States may take all the measures necessary for their establishment, operation, safeguarding and control.”
http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/area/usa/sfa/pdfs/fulltext.pdf 

7. See Environmental Review for Basing MV-22 Aircraft at MCAS Futenma and Operating in Japan (2012), Department of the Navy and the United States Marine Corps and Marine Corps Installation Command Pacific. 


9. See Survey on Okinawa Rail at Jungle Warfare Training Center (2010), Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, MCIPAC Installations Okinawa, Japan.

10. Article III of SOFA between the U.S. and Japanese governments states “[w]ithin the facilities and areas, the United States may take all the measures necessary for their establishment, operation, safeguarding and control.”

http://www.mofa.go.jp/mofaj/area/usa/sfa/pdfs/fulltext.pdf

11. See “U.S. military must not jeopardize Okinawan forest’s bid for World Heritage Status.” Hideki Yoshikawa, The Japan Times, February 1, 2017.  https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2017/02/01/voices/u-s-military-must-not-jeopardize-okinawan-forests-bid-world-heritage-status/#.WdqN-2K0My4



Figure 1





Figure 2



Figure 3


Figure 3: “Distribution map of protected plant and wildlife species” in NTA provided in the U.S. military’s Integrated Natural Resources and Cultural Resources Management Plan (p.122) (2014).