A worker looks out at Oura Bay near Camp Schwab, Okinawa, in September 2022.

A worker looks out at Oura Bay near Camp Schwab, Okinawa, in September 2022. (Stars and Stripes)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Japanese government halted shipment of landfill material destined for a U.S. military airfield on Okinawa after a truck hit and killed a security guard and injured a protester last week.

Moving material to ports at Awa and Motobu on the island by truck is suspended while authorities consider measures to prevent future incidents, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshimasa Hayashi said at a video-recorded press conference Monday.

The landfill material is used to reclaim a portion of Oura Bay for a Marine Corps airfield under construction in the rural Henoko region of northern Okinawa. The material is quarried on Okinawa, trucked to the ports and then moved by ships to the airfield site at Camp Schwab.

Work at the site was set to resume fully in August after more than four years’ delay while Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki fought the project in Japanese courts. The airfield is planned as a replacement for Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in urban Ginowan.

A spokesman for U.S. Forces Japan did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday from Stars and Stripes.

Around 10 a.m. Friday, security guard Yoshikazu Usami, 47, and an unidentified 72-year-old woman “for some reason” stepped into the path of a truck turning left from Awa port, Nago city, according to an Okinawa Prefectural Police spokesman that day. Usami suffered severe head injuries and was declared dead at a local hospital at 11:09 a.m.; the woman was treated for a broken leg, the police spokesman said.

“This accident is very regrettable, and the Ministry of Defense is working to understand the situation,” Hayashi said Monday.

Reports indicate the “accident occurred during an interaction between a security guard and a protester,” Hayashi said. “The Okinawa Defense Bureau is working to confirm the details of the accident.”

Protesters opposed to the U.S. military presence on the island are a regular presence outside the port.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki on Friday said the accident is “extremely regrettable,” a spokesman for the prefectural Henoko Base Construction Countermeasures Division told Stars and Stripes by phone Tuesday.

“As a prefecture, we will ask Okinawa Defense Bureau to stop transporting landfill materials until the reason of the accident becomes clear and it is possible to take preventive measures,” Tamaki said, according to the prefecture’s spokesman. The Okinawa Defense Bureau notified the prefecture on Friday night that trucks moving the material to the ports would be halted, according to the prefecture’s spokesman. Some government officials in Japan may speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

Bureau director Ito Shinya visited the Liberal Democratic Party Okinawa office on Saturday and apologized for the incident, national broadcaster NHK reported that day. The Liberal Democrats are the ruling party in Japan.

Members of LDP Okinawa asked the bureau to take appropriate safety measures and “be thorough on risk management,” according to a post Saturday on X by Yoshitoyo Arakaki, a member of Okinawa’s prefectural assembly.

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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.

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