USS Chief (MCM 14) sits along the pier at Sasebo Port in preparation for conducting open ship tours during the Sasebo Seaside Festival. (U.S. Navy/MC1 David R. Krigbaum)

SASEBO, Japan - Though the US Navy has been in Sasebo since 1945, for the first time a US Navy vessel went pierside at the city’s civilian port to offer tours Aug. 3-4.

Avenger-class Mine countermeasures ship USS Chief (MCM 14), forward deployed to Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo, moored at the Sasebo international cruise ship terminal to take part in the 15th annual Sasebo Seaside Festival. The summer celebration takes place in early August and features musical and dance performances and food with a night time fireworks display. This year also included open-ship tours of JMSDF Murasame-class destroyer JS Ariake (DD 109) and Hayabusa-class guided missile patrol boat JS Ohtaka (PG 826), as well as a vehicle display by Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, a new Marine Corps-like organization established in Sasebo.

This year’s celebration also marks Sasebo naval port’s 130th anniversary. The Imperial Japanese Navy Sasebo naval station began operations in 1889. Today CFAS, JMSDF and Sasebo City use portions of the former imperial base.

Over two days 1500 visitors came onboard Chief for self-guided tours of the ship’s combat information center, pilot house, mess deck and minesweeping equipment on the fantail. Several commented that they were surprised how much of the ship was open and the amount of freedom they had to move about it. One visitor had come from Chiba Prefecture, north of Tokyo to see the ship and another said he chose to visit this festival instead of Yokosuka’s to see an American mine countermeasures ship.

To help guests understand Chief and its mission they were given Japanese-language brochures and QR codes posted at tour stops took them to subtitled videos. Sailors and CFAS volunteer translators posted around the ship gave them a chance to meet American Sailors and talk with them.

“The Chief Team and I were excited at the possibility to interact with the Sasebo community and to be the first US Navy ship to participate in the Seaside Festival; not only was it an opportunity to showcase the ship and our mission but also an opportunity to showcase the U.S. Navy's greatest asset, its people,” said Lt. Cmdr. Frederick Crayton, Chief’s commanding officer.

Preparing for Chief’s involvement required coordination between Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo Public Affairs, Sasebo Seaside Festival Committee, JMSDF and Sasebo City. Though Chief is forward-deployed to Sasebo, taking it just 1500 yards away from its usual berth aboard CFAS to the civilian port required the same permissions and planning as if it was visiting any other port city in Japan, explains CFAS Public Affairs Officer Aki Nichols.

“The idea was simple enough in the beginning, but we quickly realized how complex it really was and that it would have to be treated like any other foreign port visit. There were significant challenges for both sides because there was no precedent, and we succeeded in large part because of the cooperation of Sasebo City Hall and their Harbor Operations Department. Thanks to the excellent support from our host city, we were able to showcase how integral the U.S. Navy is to the naval port of Sasebo and to the U.S.-Japan alliance. Based on all of the positive feedback we’ve received, I’m hopeful that we can be part of the festival again next year, and the year after that.”

Festival-goers learn about minesweeping while touring USS Chiefs (MCM 14) during the Sasebo Seaside Festival. (U.S. Navy/MC1 David R. Krigbaum)