Japan Coast Guard may have hard time probing Marines Osprey mishap
The Japan Coast Guard is expected to face difficulties investigating Tuesday’s crash of an MV-22 Osprey of the U.S. Marine Corps, due to the bilateral status of forces agreement, which limits Japan’s criminal jurisdiction in cases involving the U.S. military.
The tilt-rotor transport aircraft carrying five crew members ditched just off Okinawa on Tuesday night.
The coast guard’s 11th regional headquarters in Naha, the capital of Okinawa, launched its probe early Wednesday under the Japanese law on punishment over hazardous acts involving aircraft.
But it remains to be seen if the U.S. military will allow the coast guard to question the Osprey crew members, sources said.
The coast guard is in charge of investigating foreign airplanes’ crashes and crash-landings occurring within Japan’s territorial waters.
The 11th regional headquarters has so far taken pictures of areas around the Osprey ditching site, among other things, and aims to question the plane’s crew and inspect the site.
The local headquarters has sought the U.S. military’s cooperation in its investigation, hoping to send documents on the case to prosecutors if it comes to believe that charges can be established, the sources said.
But it has not received any response from the U.S. side and therefore has been unable to approach the crash site, according to the sources.
The special criminal procedure law that covers U.S. troops in Japan stipulates that the Japanese side’s probes into and seizures of U.S. military assets be done only if the military gives its consent. The law, based on the SOFA, has blocked Japanese authorities’ probes on cases related to U.S. forces in Japan in the past.
In the crash of a U.S. military helicopter into the premises of Okinawa International University in the city of Ginowan in August 2004, the Okinawa Prefectural Police were unable to inspect the chopper or question its crew because the U.S. military did not approve the action.
Over the case, the police sent papers on four U.S. troops to prosecutors without identifying them.
But they escaped indictment based on a SOFA provision that Japanese authorities do not have the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over accidents caused by U.S. troops while they are performing official duties.