The U.S. military on Monday resumed the delivery of MV-22 Osprey aircraft to Okinawa, triggering criticism from local people over the move that comes only a week after a fatal helicopter crash on the southern island.
Japan's Defense Ministry informed relevant regional governments that the U.S. Forces have restarted moving the newly shipped tilt-rotor aircraft to the Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Okinawa Prefecture from its base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe again pledged to make every possible effort to relieve the burden on Okinawa in hosting the bulk of U.S. bases in Japan. "It is our policy to give priority to considering the lives of local residents," Abe told reporters in Tokyo.
Nine Ospreys arrived at the Futenma base during the day. They are part of the second batch of 12 aircraft, of which two were moved to Okinawa earlier.
The Marines will have a total of 24 Ospreys in Okinawa when the remaining one in Iwakuni is transported. The U.S. military started deploying the aircraft in Okinawa last October to replace aging CH-46 helicopters.
But it was forced to suspend the transfer of the Ospreys on Aug. 5 in the wake of a crash involving an HH-60 helicopter in Okinawa that killed one of the four crew members.
The U.S. military is still investigating the cause of the crash. Resuming the transport of the Ospreys just a week after the incident led to criticism from people in Okinawa, where memories are fresh of past accidents involving military aircraft since the 1972 reversion of the island to Japan.
"It is regrettable that the (latest) deployment comes at a time when people's concerns have yet to be addressed," Atsushi Sakima, mayor of Ginowan, which hosts the Futenma base, told reporters, while Okinawa Deputy Gov. Kurayoshi Takara said the local government will continue to ask the central government to reconsider the deployment of the Ospreys.
In Tokyo, Abe also said Japan will "closely cooperate with the United States" in implementing bilateral agreements.
The two countries are planning to relocate the Futenma base from the crowded city of Ginowan to the less-populated Henoko coastal area in Nago city within Okinawa, despite calls from locals to move the base out of the prefecture.
A senior ministry official said the Japanese and U.S. governments "will further accelerate" talks on easing Okinawa's hosting burden, including conducting some training exercises for the Ospreys outside the prefecture, which must gain approval from other municipalities as new hosts.