Photo: Knesset Website
Israel portrayed as escaping responsibility. MK Rassabi
Photo: Knesset Website

MK: Zim harmed Israel-Japan relations

MK Ehud Rassabi, chairman of Israel-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Society, says Zim's initial denial of accident presented Israel as country escaping responsibility

The investigation of the naval accident in northern Japan is moving forward in high pace. The Japanese Coast Guard announced Wednesday that it will dispatch four investigators to Hong Kong in order to continue investigating the crew of the Israeli cargo ship Zim Asia that was involved in the accident, in which seven Japanese fishermen lost their lives.


Thus, the Japanese authorities have accepted Zim's suggestion to join them in investigating the incident. In addition, a Ministry of Transport investigator is also expected to arrive in Hong Kong shortly in order to question the crew members.


Simultaneously, the Japanese government addressed the Israeli government regarding the issue for the first time. The Japanese government submitted a list of demands through the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the embassies in Tokyo and Tel Aviv. Israel agreed to all the demands and stressed that the Japanese investigators will receive any information upon request.


The Japanese demands are highly significant because the incident occurred in international water, and therefore only Israel has the authority to take steps against the Israeli company if the Japanese pose such a demand.


In the meantime, MK Ehud Rassabi (Shinui) harshly criticized Zim for causing damage to the tightening relations between Israel and Japan.


Rassabi, chairman of the Israel-Japan Parliamentary Friendship Society, said that the company's initial denial of the accident before checking the facts presented Israel as a country escaping responsibility.


Rassabi rebuked Zim for the way it dealt with the affair and called on the company to "Investigate the accident and the crew's conduct, reach the required conclusions against those responsible and assist the families of the dead, including a generous financial compensation."


Rassabi discussed the issue with Japan's Ambassador to Israel and with a Japanese Foreign Ministry senior official, and passed on the Knesset's condolences to the victims' families. He expressed his hope that the Foreign Ministry's intensive diplomatic activity, as well as the steps being taken by Zim, will assist in the rapid rehabilitation of the important relations between Israel and Japan.


Japanese newspaper: Fishermen should have moved


In the meantime, the question remains whether Zim's apology and the compensation offer will succeed in blotting out the initial impression created when a 'hit and run' accident was reported and when the company denied its involvement in the incident.


For now it seems that the steps taken by the company are being accepted with satisfaction in Japan. Israel's Ambassador to Japan, Eli Cohen, told Ynet that many people have expressed their satisfaction to him. Sources in Tokyo's business sector have also expressed their satisfaction to Ynet with the way Zim dealt with the affair.


The affair has been reported in Japan's media quite prominently. A special emphasis was given to the press conference held in Tokyo Tuesday, in which Zim representatives took part.


Zim CEO Doron Goder apologized in front of the media and promised to compensate the victims' families. On Friday he is expected to fly to the island of Hokkaido in northern Japan in order to meet with representatives of the victims' families and with the island's governor.


The Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper published a main editorial on the affair. "It is necessary for the shipping company owners to acknowledge their involvement in the incident and to take real steps to respond…," the editorial said.


"The problem is that the ship's crew denies a 'hit and run' accident, and the company claims that it cannot imagine a situation in which the captain would have left the area if he had known about a collision. However, from the radar data of another ship, it is evident that the Israeli ship suddenly changed its direction. Therefore, there is reason to suspect that the Israeli ship could not have avoided colliding with the fishing boat and then left the area."


The newspaper notes that paint fragments on the Japanese boat found on the Israeli ship are solid proof.


"Even if it turns out that it was not a 'hit and run', the fact that there was a collision remains, as well as the suspicion that the Israeli ship's observer did not fulfill his duty. Therefore, the Israeli company cannot ignore its responsibility," it said. 


However, the newspaper also noted that according to naval laws, when two vessels are on a collision course, the one on the right should give right of way. According to known information, the Japanese boat was on the right. However, the newspaper stresses that when the two vessels are close, they are both obliged to stop. Zim's spokesman said in this context that it is quite obvious that the heavy and large Israeli vessel would find it harder to maneuver compared to the relatively light-weighted Japanese boat.


Zim official: There was no warning before the collision


On Wednesday a Zim official once again denied publications that the ship's radar systems identified the Japanese fishing boat before the collision. He said that he had spoken to the ship's crew and that "the duty officer insists that he did not notice any sign on the radar warning against the hit; not before it happened and not after."


He also protested against the media coverage focusing on the fact that the ship's captain was sleeping during the incident, saying that it is quite obvious that the captain is not expected to remain awake throughout the entire trip, which lasts several months.


The official and another source in the company told Ynet that the investigation is continuing and that there is no point in speculating on who is to blame.


However, they both noted that since it was not the captain but the other officer who was on duty, his evidence is the most significant and crucial to the investigation and to finding out whether there was a warning before the collision, and whether it was felt on the ship.


The company denied the reports in Japan that the ship suddenly changed its course close to the approximate time of the collision, and that this casts a suspicion that the crew members may have felt the hit.


In response to the question whether the company had attempted to conceal the event, the source said that there is no point in concealing such a high-scale event because of the navigation data and photos available.


Eli Shimoni contributed to the report


פרסום ראשון: 10.05.05, 18:19
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