US Navy lifts temporary drinking ban on its sailors in Japan

A file picture dated May 19, 2015, shows US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircrafts sitting on the tarmac at US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan on Okinawa Island, southwestern Japan.
A file picture dated May 19, 2015, shows US Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircrafts sitting on the tarmac at US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan on Okinawa Island, southwestern Japan. PHOTO: EPA

TOKYO (Reuters) - The United States Navy lifted a temporary drinking ban on its 18,600 sailors in Japan on Friday (June 17) after a senior officer said personnel had shown they understand how alcohol-fueled bad behaviour can damage relations with the Japanese community.

The drinking ban was imposed 11 days ago after Japanese police arrested a US sailor on the southern island of Okinawa for drink-driving following a car crash that injured two people. That incident came as US forces were already trying to repair relations in Japan after an American civilian working for the military was arrested on suspicion of murdering of a 20-year-old Japanese woman and dumping her body.

"The temporary restriction on alcohol was not intended to be a punishment, nor was it ever intended to be permanent," Rear-Admiral Matthew Carter, commander of the US Navy in Japan, said in a statement. "We took this pause to train and reflect on the dangers of alcohol abuse."

Sailors will be allowed to drink alcohol on US bases there and in private residences outside, but not in off-base bars.

Anger among Okinawa residents at the US military presence threatens to derail the relocation the US Marines' Futenma air base to a less populous part of the island, a plan agreed in 1995 after the rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by US military personnel sparked huge demonstrations.

Okinawa's governor and many residents want the Marines off the island. A demonstration against the US presence planned for Sunday in the capital Naha could attract thousands of people.