US, Japan and South Korea practice investigating ships for WMD material
By CAITLIN DOORNBOS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 25, 2018
ABOARD THE JS MURASAME — Sailors from the destroyer USS Milius joined Japanese and South Korean forces in a practice search for weapons of mass destruction materials south of Tokyo Bay on Wednesday.
The U.S. sailors took turns with their allies deploying search crews to investigate a private cargo ship.
A team of 13 Japanese sailors from the destroyer JS Murasame kicked off the daylong drills, which were part of the Pacific Shield 2018 exercise. The baker’s-dozen crew climbed aboard a small, rubber boat and sped up to the cargo vessel within minutes.
One by one, the sailors climbed up from the boat using a rope ladder dropped down the side of the cargo ship.
Donning Kevlar helmets and ballistic vests, they moved about the suspect ship. From more than a mile away, they looked like ants infiltrating each area of the ship above and below deck.
Ultimately, they discovered a “suspicious box” and asked the ship’s crew members whether they knew about its presence, a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force spokesman said.
Afterward, the team again piled into the small boat and headed back to the Murasame, so the Milius sailors and a team of South Korean sailors embarked on the U.S. ship could take a turn.
The JMSDF spokesman said the scenario’s procedures could be used if a ship within Japanese waters was suspected to carry WMDs.
The U.S., Japan and South Korea are part of the United Nations Proliferation Security Initiative group, which agrees to inspect “shipments on vessels with the consent of the flag State on the high seas” if there are “reasonable grounds” to believe the cargo contains prohibited items related to WMDs, according to a statement by the group.
If a suspected ship’s country refuses an at-sea inspection, the ship must pull into a nearby port for a required inspection.
The participating countries also practiced communications as they navigated around one another during the exercises. A Japanese sailor embarked on the Milius to communicate happenings back to the Murasame, the JMSDF spokesman said.
A Philippine Navy observer also embarked aboard Murasame.
USS Milius is the most recent ship to join the Navy’s 7th Fleet after transferring to Yokosuka earlier this summer.
The 7th Fleet remains down two guided-missile destroyers, as the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain continue undergoing repairs after suffering separate, fatal collisions last year.
The JS Murasame is also homeported at the JMSDF’s Yokosuka base.
Pacific Shield 2018 will continue Thursday with drills by the JMSDF and the U.S., Philippine and Thai navies.