All US military personnel stationed in Japan – approximately 50,000-strong – have been banned from either purchasing or consuming alcohol after a 21-year-old US Marine killed a 61-year-old male civilian in a drink-driving road accident on Okinawa island. The ban is effective from Monday, 20 November, both on and off the military bases across Japan, a key US ally in the region.
Additionally, more than 25,000 American troops in the Okinawa base have also been confined to their bases and residences as part of the clampdown, until further notice.
The extraordinary crackdown comes after Nicholas James-McLean's two-tonne military truck struck a vehicle driven by Hidemasa Taira, a civilian, on Sunday, 19 November, in Naha, the main city in Okinawa. A breath test conducted on the US Marine after the accident revealed that his alcohol level was three times over the permissible limit.
While James-McLean – who reportedly violated a traffic signal to ram into Taira's vehicle – escaped with minor injuries, the sexagenarian was declared dead in a hospital shortly after the incident.
Images from the accident scene showed that Taira's white mini truck was nothing more than a pile of twisted metal after the crash.
James-McLean has been taken into custody by the Okinawa police and has been charged with negligent driving resulting in death.
The US military, which earlier said alcohol influence "may have been a factor" in the fatal vehicle crash, has said top commanders will now impart training to troops on the responsible use of alcohol, acceptable behaviour and risk management.
"The vast majority of soldiers, sailors, marines and civilians in Japan serve honourably and make great contributions to the defence of Japan," read a statement from the US Forces in Japan. "When our service members fail to live up to the high standards we set for them, it damages the bonds between bases and local communities and makes it harder for us to accomplish our mission."
Earlier, Lieutenant General Lawrence Nicholson, the commanding general of the US Marine Forces Japan, had issued a personal statement expressing his "deepest regret" for the accident caused by James-McLean. "I would like to convey my deepest regret and sincere condolences to the family and friends of the Okinawan man who died as a result of this incident," he said.
However, the Okinawan government is unhappy despite the restrictions imposed by the US military, and the southern Japanese island's governor, Takeshi Onaga, is set to make a formal complaint later on Monday, according to the Japan Times.
US' Okinawa military base has been a source of tension for several years, with anti-military sentiment running high among the islanders.
"It is extremely regrettable that this accident happened even though the Japanese government has repeatedly asked them for the thorough implementation of preventive measures and enforcement of disciplines," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters as Tokyo's foreign ministry immediately raised a protest with the US military after the incident.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, expressed its deep regret over this incident and requested that discipline should be strengthened and that measures should be taken to prevent recurrence," the Japanese foreign ministry said.