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Japan deploys sixth high-tech Aegis destroyer

by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) March 13, 2008
Japan put into service Thursday its sixth destroyer equipped with the high-tech Aegis radar system, three weeks after an identical vessel rammed and sank a tuna boat killing two fishermen.

The US-developed Aegis system can track incoming missiles by radar. It is seen as Japan's frontline defence against nuclear-armed North Korea.

The 7,750-tonne destroyer Ashigara was handed over to the defence ministry by its builder, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., at the company's shipyard in Nagasaki in southern Japan, a ministry official said.

The vessel, which cost some 140 billion yen (1.4 billion dollars), will be deployed to the nearby Japanese naval base of Sasebo, the official said.

The Ashigara, which can accommodate 300 crew members, is the same size as the 165-metre (545-foot) Atago, Japan's largest destroyer.

The Atago was commissioned a year ago but now is docked for investigations after it crashed on February 19 into a seven-tonne fishing boat outside Tokyo Bay on its way back from a visit to Hawaii.

The tuna boat's two crew members, a father and his adult son, are presumed dead.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has yet to pinpoint the cause of the accident, which briefly triggered opposition calls for Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba to resign and led to a fall in the government's approval rating.

Both Fukuda and Ishiba went to the fishermen's village to apologise for the accident.

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