Marine Corps Lifts Ban on Water Activities in Japan

FILE - Wave watchers witness the dangers of getting too close too soon after a typhoon passed near Maeda Point two days before. (Air Force/Ed Dunn)
FILE - Wave watchers witness the dangers of getting too close too soon after a typhoon passed near Maeda Point two days before. (Air Force/Ed Dunn)

A temporary moratorium on ocean water activities for troops within III Marine Expeditionary Force was lifted Nov. 5 after all Marines participated in discussions and training.

The water activities ban was instituted after three troops, two Marines and a Navy corpsman, died in three separate apparent drowning incidents in Okinawa in the space of a month. All three deaths are still under investigation.

The small-group discussions and refresher training focused on “safe ways to enjoy the wide range of water-related activities in Okinawa, tactics to reduce risk while in the ocean, the importance of the Okinawa sea conditions, where to find up-to-date sea condition information, and the importance of working together to reduce preventable injuries and deaths in the water,” Marine 2nd Lt. Jacky Chow, a spokeswoman for III Marine Logistics Group, told Military.com.

The ban was an uncommon step following the tragic rash of deaths, beginning with the Oct. 10 death of Petty Officer 1st Class Jorge Noriega Suarez in an apparent diving accident at Mermaid’s Grotto near Cape Manzamo, Okinawa, a popular diving and snorkeling spot among locals and tourists.

At the end of October, two Marines died within 24 hours of each other in apparent drownings at the same recreational spot: Maeda Point in Onna Village, within Okinawa's Kunigami district.

Sgt. Aubrey Williams, deployed to Okinawa as a UH-1 Huey helicopter crew chief for Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 out of Camp Pendleton, California died there in an Oct. 29 accident.

Lance Cpl. Sebastian Borja-Diaz died Oct. 30 in an apparent drowning, also at Maeda Point. He had been assigned to 3rd Transportation Support Battalion as a motor vehicle operator.

It’s not uncommon for troops in Okinawa to be subjected to additional rules and scrutiny as Marine commanders work to accommodate an Okinawan civilian population critical of the Marines’ presence there.

In May, a temporary midnight curfew and a ban on off-base drinking were instated after a civilian base worker was arrested in connection with the death of a 20-year-old local woman.

Typically, however, these restrictions are aimed at misbehavior or public image, rather than concern for troops’ off-duty safety.

It’s not clear how long the investigations into all three deaths are expected to take.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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