Two fishermen were missing after a Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis-equipped destroyer collided with a fishing boat in the Pacific off Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture early Tuesday morning, the MSDF and the Japan Coast Guard said.

The 7,750-ton Atago plowed into the 7.3-ton Seitoku Maru 42 kilometers south of Nojimazaki cape at about 4:10 a.m., according to the officials.

As a result of the clash, the fishing boat’s hull was broken in two, the officials said.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda criticized poor communications within the ministry after learning that Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba did not receive an initial report on the incident until 90 minutes had elapsed.

Among the MSDF’s five Aegis-equipped destroyers, the Atago, which was commissioned in March last year, is the latest version of the destroyer equipped with the advanced radar system, according to the MSDF.

The accident was the first major collision in 20 years between an MSDF vessel and a fishing boat since the Nadashio, an MSDF submarine, hit the Fuji Maru No. 1, a leisure boat carrying anglers, off Yokosuka Port, Kanagawa Prefecture, in July 1988, killing 30 people.

According to the Third Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, aboard the fishing boat were the captain, Haruo Kichisei, 58, of Katsuura, Chiba Prefecture, and his 23-year-old son, Tetsuhiro. Both were missing after the accident, the coast guard said.

JCG officials said they received a report on the incident from the Atago at 4:23 a.m., which reportedly said the Seitoku Maru had been sundered but was still floating. MSDF officers reportedly added that they were unable to locate any of the boat’s crew. It is believed the destroyer plowed into the side of the fishing boat. Abrasions believed to have been produced at the time of the collision were visible on the right side of the Atago’s bow from a Yomiuri Shimbun helicopter.

JCG officials attached a device called an airlifter to the disparate parts of the fishing boat to stop them from sinking, before searching the two interiors for survivors–a search that proved fruitless.

At the time of the accident, there reportedly was a north-northeast wind of about 7 meters per second, waves of about 50 centimeters, and clear visibility.

According to the Kawazu branch of Shin-Katsuura fishermen’s cooperative, the Seitoku Maru set off from Kawazu Port at about 2 a.m. Tuesday with seven other vessels to fish for tuna. The vessels planned to head for waters off Hachijojima island after fishing for mackerel off Izu-Oshima island to use as bait. They were scheduled to return to the port at about 9 to 10 p.m. later the same day.

When the fishermen’s cooperative contacted the Kinpei Maru, one of the other fishing boats, crew members reportedly said they had spotted an MSDF destroyer.

The MSDF Staff Office established a committee to investigate the accident the same day. MSDF officials said the Atago was on normal night duty at the time of the incident.

Under law, to avoid collisions at sea, vessels are supposed to keep to their respective starboard sides, in principle, when cutting across each other. When planned routes mean that crossing paths is inevitable, the vessel that sees the other on its starboard side is required to change its course to avoid a clash.

However, because an operational fishing boat always takes priority, other vessels must move to accommodate the fishing boat.

It is considered highly likely the Atago bore the responsibility to change direction to avoid a collision at the time of the accident. Usually, a ship taking such action would sound its horn as a warning while steering away from the approaching vessel.

But the crew members of the seven fishing boats sailing with the Seitoku Maru said they did not hear a horn sound before the collision occurred.

The Atago, which is 165 meters long and 21 meters wide, has a crew of about 300.

After leaving the MSDF’s Maizuru base in Kyoto Prefecture on Oct. 25, the Atago arrived in waters off Hawaii on Nov. 8. After test-firing SM-2 interceptor missiles, the destroyer headed for Japan and was scheduled to arrive in Yokosuka on Tuesday.

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