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Seki Shouten employee Sho Aoi removes the last impounded car of the month from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Tuesday.
Seki Shouten employee Sho Aoi removes the last impounded car of the month from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan, on Tuesday. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — There’s a story behind every weather-worn car not moving from your parking space, said Petty Officer 1st Class Peter Donaldson. The master-at-arms hears them all.

“Everyone has a reason or an excuse about why the car is just sitting there,” Donaldson said. “Some people give you the run-around. Others confess right away. The bottom line is that it’s your property and your fault.”

Donaldson has been in the “junking business” for two to three years, trying to dent Yokosuka Naval Base’s abandoned car problem, he said. The Security Department collects an entire parking lot’s worth of cars — 150 vehicles every year.

On a base with 25,000 people and only 2,000 to 3,000 parking spots, these cars take up “prime real estate,” he said.

“We hear about it all the time,” Donaldson said. “There is no room for cars to just sit there. It’s an agonizing problem and it costs us a lot of money.”

It works out to an average of $2,500 a month to pick up and junk cars, he said. Sixty cars were in the base’s impound lot at the beginning of November. Seki Shouten Co. Ltd. of Yokohama towed away the last one — minivan #39 — Tuesday.

The cars aren’t just found on base — Petty Officer 2nd Class Tonya Howell collects them from Ikego, Negishi and narrow Japanese alleys not made for the American tow truck she drives.

“People go to great lengths to hide their vehicles,” Howell said.

The number of orphaned cars has increased in recent years, said Commander, Fleet Activities spokesman Bill Doughty in an e-mail. In retaliation, the base is “taking steps to prevent it from happening, and confronting violators,” he said.

Enforcement stepped up months ago when the Personnel Support Activity/Detachment started holding back airplane tickets unless people departing Yokosuka showed proof that they’ve “de-registered” their vehicle.

That is helping, Donaldson said.

“We’re getting more people willingly admitting that they have a car stashed on base so they can get their plane ticket home,” Donaldson said. But it won’t affect the people transferring at sea, he said.

If a person’s car is determined to be abandoned, the administrative office will send out a nasty-gram and a $200 bill to their last known address.

“It lets the knuckleheads know that this is wrong and that we want our money for disposing of the car,” Donaldson said.

A lot of letters come back, but they do recoup some of the money, Donaldson said.

“It’s tough. You have to be extremely aggressive just to maintain the program,” Donaldson said. “We really go out of our way to help people with their cars. There are plenty of other options besides leaving it here for us to take care of.”


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