US 7th Fleet bans alcohol after deadly crash in Okinawa

The U.S. 7th Fleet ordered that all U.S. service members on the Japanese island of Okinawa be restricted to base and to their residences and prohibited their consumption of alcohol after a deadly crash involving a U.S. Marine.

A U.S. Marine whom police say had a blood-alcohol content three times the legal level was allegedly involved in an accident on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa that left a 61-year-old Japanese man dead.

The unidentified Marine was driving a truck that collided with a small truck at an intersection early Sunday morning in Naha, the main city in Okinawa, police said.

The 7th Fleet said its directive was "effective immediately," and included residences as well as "public locations."

Kazuhiko Miyagi of the Okinawa police confirmed Japanese media reports that a breath test indicated the Marine had an alcohol level that was three times the legal limit, the Associated Press reported.

Later Sunday, the Japanese Foreign Ministry put out a statement saying that the Marine was "driving under the influence of alcohol" when the collision occurred.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan, expressed its deep regret over this incident and requested that discipline would be strengthened and that measures would be taken to prevent recurrence," the statement said.

The U.S. Marine Corps Installations Pacific said in a statement that the cause of the crash is under investigation, according to Stars and Stripes.

"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 accident," Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of Marine Forces Japan and III Marine Expeditionary Force, said in the statement quoted in Stars and Stripes. "We are still gathering facts and working with the Japanese authorities who are investigating the accident and its causes."

The fatal auto incident could rekindle growing opposition in Okinawa to the U.S. military presence there.

A statement by the 7th Fleet said "alcohol may have been a factor" in the deadly crash.

"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," the statement read.

Last year, the U.S. government relinquished land on its Okinawa military base back to the Japanese government.

The move, considered the largest land return by the United States to Japan since 1972, came after swelling protests involving large crowds of Japanese who expressed their discontent throughout the summer after a U.S. contractor charged with raping and then strangling and stabbing a 20-year-old Japanese office worker. That same year, a U.S. Navy sailor was sentenced after being found guilty of pulling a sleeping woman he found in the hallway of his hotel into his room and raping her.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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