The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters (Naha) began on Dec. 14 conducting an investigation into the emergency landing by an MV-22 Osprey in Okinawa on suspicion of the violation of the Act on Punishment of Acts to Endanger Aviation. But the U.S. military retrieved the aircraft without responding to the Japanese request for an investigation. The Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement restricts Japan’s right to police. There are concerns that this may prevent the Japanese side from being sufficiently involved in investigations into the cause of the incident.
On the early morning of Dec. 14, the 11th Region unit verbally requested the U.S. military to accept its probe, but they still had not responded in the evening. Meanwhile, at the site of the accident, U.S. military personnel on an inflatable boat had already retrieved parts of the aircraft wreckage.
The 11th Region unit merely inspected the scene visually, confirming the situation and taking photos.
A provision concerning the right to criminal jurisdiction may hamper Japan-led efforts to investigate the cause. A related document that Japan and the U.S. agreed on states that with regard to “property” of the U.S. military, “the Japanese authorities will not exercise the right of search, seizure or inspection, except in cases where the U.S. military has given consent.”
In the 2004 crash accident involving a U.S. military helicopter at Okinawa International University, which is located adjacent to the U.S. Marines Corps Air Station Futenma, the U.S. military invoked the SOFA and refused to allow the prefectural police to conduct an onsite inspection.