Marine parachute jump off Okinawa disrupted by locals
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A small group of anti-base protesters in canoes, kayaks and small motorboats attempted to disrupt a parachute exercise by Marines on Tuesday in Oura Bay.
Some of the protesters rowed to within inches of Marines who parachuted into the water, observers reported. A photo in a local newspaper showed a kayak just inches from a Marine rubber Zodiac boat.
About 40 protesters were in the water safety zone in Oura Bay, just off the Marines’ Camp Schwab.
“While we respect the right to peacefully demonstrate, interference with surface boats and participants jeopardize the safety of U.S. servicemembers and the local community,” a Marine news release stated.
“Parachute training on Okinawa is essential to maintaining the overall combat readiness of our forces stationed here and is a normal amphibious ingress technique for the Marine Corps,” said 1st Lt. Garron Garn, a Marine Corps spokesman.
During the exercise, which took place between 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., 22 Marines parachuted into the water. It was the first such exercise at Camp Schwab since 1999, according to the Defense Facilities Administration Bureau in Naha.
A Marine spokesman said the DFAB was properly notified of the exercise.
Okinawa prefectural officials said they requested the exercise be canceled and that all U.S. military parachute training be limited to Ie Shima, an island off Okinawa’s northwest coast. In 1996 the U.S.-Japan Special Action Committee on Okinawa (SACO) issued a report agreeing to move parachute training at the old Yomitan Auxiliary Airfield near Torii Station to Ie Shima, where the Marines have an auxiliary airfield. But there was no mention in the report of moving all such training to Ie Shima.
Last month the Air Force conducted parachute training over Kadena Air Base when wind conditions ruled out using Ie Shima.
That agreement also called for the closing of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma and replacing it with an airport in a less populated area of Okinawa. Many of Tuesday’s protesters are members of a group that has been camped out in the fishing village of Henoko, adjacent to Camp Schwab, since April 2004.
With a fleet of small boats, they thwarted an environmental survey of the waters off Henoko where a new off-shore air station was to be built. Last May the United States and Japan decided to relocate MCAS Futenma instead to a new airport to be built on Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay.
Protester Sakae Toyama of the Peace Citizens’ Network said Tuesday’s exercise “completely ignored the wishes of the people of Okinawa.”
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.