Navy eases alcohol restriction for U.S. sailors in Japan

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(CNN) — The U.S. Navy has partially relaxed its alcohol ban on American sailors in Japan, 11 days after instituting the rules.

Sailors are now allowed to drink alcohol when they’re on base or in their own personal housing, but they are not to drink off-base, the Navy announced on Thursday.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Navy imposed temporary restrictions on drinking and traveling off-base after several recent alcohol-related incidents, which the Navy’s 7th Fleet said were harming U.S.-Japan relations.

A string of incidents in Okinawa had drawn protests from local residents. Earlier this month, a U.S. Navy petty officer was accused of driving under the influence of alcohol, driving on the wrong side of the road, hitting two cars and injuring two people, according to reports in Stars and Stripes and the Japan Times.

In March, a U.S. sailor on Okinawa was arrested on suspicion of rape. In May, a civilian contractor at a U.S. base in Okinawa was arrested in connection with the death of a 20-year-old woman.

The Navy placed the temporary alcohol to make sure that “all personnel understand the impact of responsible behavior on the U.S.-Japan Alliance,” Rear Adm. Matthew Carter, commander of Naval Forces Japan had said in a statement when the ban was introduced on June 5.

But gradually, the Navy is lifting some of these restrictions.

“The temporary restriction on alcohol was not intended to be a punishment, nor was it ever intended to be permanent,” Carter said in the most recent statement. “We took this pause to train and reflect on the dangers of alcohol abuse. We must all be on the lookout to step in before alcohol-related incidents jeopardize our relationship with Japan.

A travel restriction was lifted last Friday after all sailors had meetings with commanders on the problems the misconduct caused for the U.S.-Japan alliance. Going off base still won’t be as easy as walking through a gate. Sailors must submit to commanders a written plan of what they’ll be doing and where for all time spent off base, according to the Navy.

About 19,000 personnel are assigned to U.S. Navy bases in Japan and Navy ships and planes operating from those bases, according to U.S. Forces Japan.

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