Gov't to expedite preliminary work for Futenma transfer site surveys

Japan's Defense Ministry will speed up preliminary works for seabed surveys in waters off the city of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, to build a replacement facility for a U.S. Marine base in the southern island prefecture amid local opposition, ministry officials said Friday.

The ministry's Okinawa Defense Bureau continued Friday to install buoys and floats to cordon off a stretch of shoreline off the Henoko district of Nago, where the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station is planned to be transferred under a Japan-U.S. agreement.

On Thursday, the ministry began setting up buoys and floats in an apparent move to prevent boats carrying protesters from entering the areas. Japan Coast Guard vessels surrounded boats used by protesters.

The coast guard said Friday it had removed several canoes and boats from the waters carrying protesters and towed some of them to nearby ports "to ensure safety."

The waters for which access is restricted cover about 561.8 hectares. The coast guard asked some antibase activists to show identification cards and urged them not to approach the restricted areas.

Trespassing in the restricted zone will be a criminal offense under the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which governs the use of the U.S. military bases in Japan. The buoys will be fully installed within a week, according to the ministry officials.

A 24-year-old man who is opposed to the base relocation plan told reporters he was forcibly removed.

The Defense Ministry was originally scheduled to conduct seabed drilling surveys at 21 locations, but has reduced the number of points to 16, Okinawa bureau officials said.

Japan and the United States have agreed to relocate the Futenma base from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less densely populated Henoko district in Nago.

Many in Okinawa remain opposed to the planned transfer, calling for the Futenma facility to be moved outside of Okinawa.