Misawa temporarily bans recreational water activities along coastline
May 26, 2011
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Misawa leaders are telling servicemembers here to stay out of the water — at least temporarily — until they figure out new restrictions being enforced by the Japanese government following the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis that decimated much of the northeastern coastline.
The base learned of the new restrictions after four Misawa community members were rescued Monday by the Japanese coast guard about 13 miles off the coast after they went missing during an ocean kayaking trip, according to 35th Fighter Wing commander Col. Michael Rothstein.
Rothstein has banned recreational water activities between the northeastern tip of the Shimokita Peninsula to Tokyo until base officials can meet with the Japanese officials in coming days to better understand the restrictions. Aomori Prefecture police and Japanese coast guard officials at their Tokyo headquarters said Thursday afternoon that they were unaware of the new restrictions.
The only exception is for Japanese public beaches with a lifeguard on duty, according to a message from Rothstein posted on Misawa Facebook pages Wednesday.
“However, if in doubt, STAY OUT,” Rothstein wrote. “Also, as recent events remind us, it is critically important to approach water sports with a carefully thought through [and] executable plan — that is within all participants’ capabilities.”
Rothstein wrote that the suspension is “not a knee jerk response to a single incident.”
The Japanese coast guard, Japan Self-Defense Forces and U.S. military conducted a joint search for the four Monday after it was reported that they hadn’t returned from a Sunday afternoon trip. A U.S. Navy aircraft spotted them and radioed their location to the coast guard. Japanese coast guard officials said the four were weak after a night a sea, but weren’t seriously injured.
The chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean are notoriously dangerous along the coast near the base, and the Air Force already had regulations in place that banned swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling and water skiing in the stretch between Hachinohe city and the peninsula.
Kayaking, surfing, windsurfing and jet skiing, which were authorized under base regulations, are now included in the temporary ban.
The rescue came during the deadliest time of year for the military, the period between May 27 and Sept. 6 that the services call the “Critical Days of Summer.”
This year, the Pacific Air Force’s annual safety campaign is “I can save my own life,” and is geared to “create an encouraging environment leading to responsible and safe behavior for Airmen and their families during this peak season,” according to an Air Force news release.
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.