Okinawans take to the sea to protest construction of new US base

Over 70 canoes and several other small vessels swarmed the site of a planned land reclamation project for a new US airbase in Japan's Okinawa Prefecture

Henoko, Nago on Okinawa Island, where a new US airbase will be built after a land reclamation project is completed

Henoko, Nago on Okinawa Island, where a new US airbase will be built after a land reclamation project is completed (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – On Monday, June 25, Okinawans took to the sea to stage a protest against a landfill project that will become part of a new U.S. military base planned for the Henoko area on the main island of Okinawa.

Kyodo News reports that over 70 canoes and several other small vessels were used by protestors to evade the Coast Guard that attempted to divert them away from the site.

While most were turned away, approximately half were able to approach the shore and future site of the landfill. Many were holding signs reading “No U.S. base here,” “Protect the Ocean” and “Don’t dump gravel,”reports Kyodo News.

The landfill project is slated to begin in mid-August, but planning and preparations have been underway for some time. The new base is part of a plan to relocate the majority of forces and equipment away from the Futenma Air Base, which is completely surrounded by residential areas of Okinawa’s Ginowan City (宜野湾).

U.S. Air Force Base Futenma (Wikimedia Commons Image)

Regular negative news stories involving the U.S. military presence on the island including; drunk driving, murders, and equipment failures resulting in threats to public safety, have all made Okinawan residents very weary of the new base construction project.

Residents have been protesting, and petitioning the Japanese government for many years, hoping the U.S. will remove their military presence from the prefecture altogether.

The new base’s construction is located farther north in a less populated, and more naturally pristine area. It has been promoted by some as a compromise with the local and national governments, but many fear the construction will have a disastrous impact on the local environment.

There have also been some clashes between law enforcement and protestors around the nearby U.S. Camp Schwab located in Henoko close to the site for the new airbase.

The landfill project will reportedly involve reclaiming 157 hectares from the seafloor off the coast of Henoko, on top of which a V-shaped runway will be created.

Many prefectural authorities, notably Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, have railed against the plans saying the construction project runs counter to Japan’s commitment to protect its natural environment.

Footage of the protest from Ryukyu News can be viewed below.