Osprey flights from Okinawa port draw local government complaints
Stars and Stripes November 9, 2022
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa – Government officials on Okinawa complained this week to the Marine Corps about its plans to fly tilt-rotor aircraft from Naha Military Port to an air base in Ginowan city.
Three MV-22B Ospreys, bound for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, were offloaded at the port on Monday, according to a tweet that day by the Military Base Affairs Division of Okinawa prefecture.
Naha Mayor Mikiko Shiroma, along with the base affairs division, complained that they were not told beforehand of the plan and asked the U.S. military not to fly the tilt-rotors the eight miles from the port to MCAS Futenma, Shiroma’s spokeswoman told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday. Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki added his voice Tuesday.
“It will worry the local community; we don’t want them to use the port in that way,” Tamaki told reporters, according to the Okinawa Times on Wednesday.
Two of the three Ospreys left the port at 1 p.m. Wednesday, departing over the East China Sea, the base affairs spokesman told Stars and Stripes by phone that day. Japanese government spokespeople customarily speak to the media on condition of anonymity as a requirement of their jobs.
Landing or launching aircraft is not an approved use of the port, the base affairs spokesman said Tuesday. He said the division in its complaint to the Ministry of Defense cited a 1972 memo that states Naha Port is a port facility and depot for petroleum, oil and lubricants, not an air station.
The Osprey flights would alarm local citizens due to the port’s proximity to a sprawling urban area and to Naha Airport, the spokesman said.
However, offloading the aircraft and flying them from the port when necessary is “part of importing and exporting” and the port’s “determined purpose,” Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Tuesday in a statement on the ministry website.
“We asked to the U.S. side to be careful when flying the MV-22s to Futenma and fly them over the sea as much as possible,” he said.
The Marines said moving the aircraft from the port was “standard procedure” and “consistent with its primary purpose,” according to a spokeswoman for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
“All operations, to include those at Naha Military Port, are conducted in accordance with bilateral agreements to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific region while meeting our treaty obligations with the nation of Japan,” Capt. Tess LaBossiere said by email to Stars and Stripes on Tuesday.
The port was first used to land or launch aircraft in November 2021, the base affairs spokesman said. The prefecture protested in June when three Osprey landed there for transport off island.
Stars and Stripes reporter Frank Andrews contributed to this report.