Ishiba given correct info, but wrong data released
The Defense Ministry continued to release incorrect information about the Aegis destroyer Atago's collision with a fishing vessel, although Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba knew about the error, sources close to the investigation said.
The discrepancy in the time when the Atago crew first spotted the fishing vessel has heightened the opposition parties' calls for the resignation of Ishiba.
The defense chief told a Lower House Security Committee last Friday he would step down if it became apparent the ministry had attempted to cover up the accident.
Ishiba said Tuesday he has no intention to resign.
"It is my responsibility to fulfill the desires of the family" of the two missing crew members, to seek out the cause of the accident, and come up with countermeasures, he told a Lower House Security Committee meeting.
Maritime Staff Office officials initially announced that crew on the Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer first sighted the Seitoku Maru two minutes before the vessels collided off the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture early on Feb. 19.
The vessel was split in half, and two fishermen, a father and a son, from the Seitoku Maru remain missing.
The chief of staff of the destroyer fleet later in the afternoon said the fishing vessel was first sighted "well before two minutes before the collision."
That information was given to Ishiba that night.
However, at a news conference later that night, a senior staff office official announced the time of the sighting as two minutes before the accident.
Maritime staff officials worked through the night to confirm the new time. At 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 20, they confirmed to Ishiba that the correct time was 12 minutes before the collision.
Vice Defense Minister Kohei Masuda told a news conference Monday that he received sporadic information about the corrected time around noon on Feb. 20.
However, ministry officials later quoted Masuda as saying his "memory of the matter is vague."
Yukio Hatoyama, secretary-general of opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), reiterated the party's calls for Ishiba's resignation, saying the delayed release of the correct time was a "manipulation of information."
Ishiba brushed aside allegations his ministry intended to hide facts surrounding the accident.
"We needed to confirm with the Japan Coast Guard and investigative authorities whether we could release information," he told reporters. "If we were to try to hide the fact, it would eventually come to light anyway."
Earlier on Tuesday, Ishiba explained to Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura that the delay in releasing the correct time of the sighting "was the result of efforts to ensure accuracy."
Machimura later defended Ishiba in a regular news conference.
"It is important that he fulfill his responsibility to engage in reform of the Defense Ministry," the government's top spokesman said.
Support for Ishiba is strong within the ruling camp.
Kenji Kosaka, chief deputy chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party's Diet Affairs Committee said, "It is normal procedure to release information only after confirmation."(IHT/Asahi: February 27,2008)