YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Recent crimes that U.S. sailors are accused of committing in Japan make now the wrong time for a port call, city of Muroran officials say.

Nevertheless, they will accept the visit of the 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge and the USS Chancellorsville. But they won’t participate in the usual activities with sailors.

The port town is on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido.

Officials wanted the U.S. ships to pass Muroran by instead of stopping as planned later this week, a Muroran ports and harbor department official said.

On Jan. 19, city officials requested the U.S. Consulate in Sapporo step in and ask the Navy to cancel the port visit.

When the consulate did not intercede, the officials decided to have the city accept the visit but not interact with the sailors during the weeklong stay.

Local concerns about reports linking U.S. sailors to several recent crimes in Japan were behind the request, a Muroran city official said.

Among them are the Jan. 3 beating death and robbery of a Yokosuka woman and a purse snatching in Sasebo.

“Because there had been a number of incidents, we thought it was not the right time,” the official said.

Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan spokesman Jon Nylander said he respects the officials’ right not to participate in activities because the choice is theirs under the status of forces agreement and the U.S.-Japan Mutual Defense Treaty.

Legally, he said, port communities can’t restrict a visit unless the Japanese government gets involved.

“The Japanese are free to express opinions about Navy ship visits, free to say how they feel and free to participate — or not — in social, athletic, service events that we do,” Nylander said. “These are several of the liberties that the U.S. Navy is here to protect.

“We hope they would want to participate in our activities, as the interaction between Americans and Japanese improves our relationship. But they don’t have to.”

The sailors will have liberty restrictions — such as buddy systems and curfews — as they do when visiting any foreign port, Nylander said.

For its part, the city doesn’t want its current stance to affect future visits, the Muroran official said. Residents have welcomed the ships in the past, he added.

“We wish (the Navy) to recognize the right time to visit rather than having to cause a needless confusion since U.S. military ships will visit in the future,” the official said. “It was regrettable that our request did not come across.”

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