Japan invites tenders for seafloor drilling to relocate U.S. base

Japan's Defense Ministry began inviting tenders Thursday for a drilling survey on the seafloor to build a controversial replacement facility for a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa despite staunch local opposition.

The ministry's local bureau in Okinawa hopes to start reclamation work in the spring of 2015, so the new facility in a coastal area of Nago can accommodate the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station in Ginowan.

The bureau will start reviewing bids from May 13. It invited tenders for a boring survey on land in January.

"We'd like to move forward steadily with the transfer (of the Futenma base)," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. Tokyo will do all it can to reduce the burden on Okinawa of hosting the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, the top government spokesman said.

Tokyo and Washington first agreed in 1996 on the transfer of Futenma, but it was not until last December that Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima gave the go-ahead to Tokyo's application to reclaim land.

To push forward the relocation, stymied by years of political wrangling and anti-U.S. military sentiment in Okinawa, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised financial and other support for Okinawa prior to Nakaima's approval.

It remains uncertain whether the relocation will go without a hitch, given that the Defense Ministry was forced to stop the previous boring survey in 2004 after repeated disruptions by local residents and others who used fishing boats and canoes to protest the construction plan.