Die Fukuryu Maru und die Bravo-Bombe

Am Morgen des 1. März 1954 sah die Besatzung des japanischen Fischerbootes "Fukuryu Maru No. 5" (Glücklicher Drache Nr. 5) die Sonne zweimal aufgehen: im Osten und im Westen. Die 23köpfige Besatzung fuhr, ohne auch nur das Geringste davon zu ahnen, durch den radioaktiven Fallout der amerikanischen Wasserstoffbombe ‚Bravo’. Der Funkoffizier Aikichi Kuboyama starb wenige Monate danach an den Strahlenfolgen, auch die anderen 22 Männer erkrankten.

Glücklicher Drache ?

Die japanische Fischerei-Industrie hatte, nachdem die radioaktive Belastung des Fisches bekanntgeworden war, monatelang starke Absatzeinbußen zu verzeichnen (1). Dies löste bei den überlebenden Besatzungsmitgliedern das Gefühl aus, an allem Schuld zu sein, deshalb schwiegen sie beschämt. Erst jetzt beginnen die noch lebenden Fischer, über ihre Krankheiten zu reden:

Yaizu Tuna Fishermen Break Silence Over H-bomb Exposure - Japan, February 3, 2004

March 1st marks the 50th anniversary of the day Japanese tuna fishing vessel Fukuryu Maru No. 5 and its crew were exposed to radiation from a U.S. hydrogen bomb test off Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific. Since the incident, more than half of the 23-member crew of the ship based in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture has died, and memories of the incident are fading. Ahead of the anniversary, surviving crew members, who used to keep silent about their experience, have finally started talking about their suffering, while there are movements among Yaizu residents to speak about the disaster and keep the words "Bikini" and "Yaizu" in the public's consciousness.

"Alas, more and more young people here are saying, 'Was there such an incident in Yaizu?'” 78-year-old Yoshio Misaki, the vessel's former chief fisherman, said in December in a lecture to Yaizu residents organized by citizens group Bikini Shimin Net Yaizu. Since last year, Misaki has taken part in many meetings of a similar kind to discuss his radiation exposure.

When the United States conducted the nuclear test off the atoll in the Marshall Islands on March 1, 1954, the Fukuryu Maru No. 5 was at sea, about 160 kilometers east of the test area. All of the ship's crew was diagnosed with acute radiation syndrome. About six months later, Aikichi Kuboyama, the ship's radio operator, died aged 40. The incident also triggered a public outcry over the recovery and disposal of the ship's contaminated catch of tuna.

In May, one of Misaki 's former crewmembers died. Misaki was asked to speak at the man's funeral, but the late fisherman's wife begged Misaki not to mention in his speech that the deceased had been on the ship. Misaki thus changed the wording of his speech. "I can understand his wife's feelings very well," Misaki said, his eyes downcast. "She had no good memories about the case. Its effects will last as long as 50 years, 80 years, until I die or our neighbors change generations. I still think somewhere in my mind that I'd appreciate it if they all forgot about it.”

Immediately after the incident, consumers across the country boycotted tuna, and the crew blamed themselves for causing problems for their home port of Yaizu, as well as their colleagues in the fishing industry. The crew also felt like social outcasts as they were subject to verbal and psychological abuse due to their status as "hibakusha" (people exposed to radiation). Such feelings made the crew reluctant to discuss their experiences of the event that had shattered Misaki 's dream of becoming the town's top fisherman.

Misaki said he could not understand the scaremongering rumors that circulated after the incident, such as the ship was operating in a danger zone and that the crew was having fun in town with deadly radioactive dust on them. What finally made him speak out was the sense of urgency that fewer and fewer people would know the truth about the incident unless he discussed it, and also the aim of restoring the honor of his former colleagues and himself. The ship currently is on display at Fukuryu Maru No. 5 Exhibition Hall on Yumenoshima island in Koto Ward, Tokyo.

(1) Hermann Vinke (1984): Wir sind wie die Fische im Meer. Arche Verlag Zürich

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