The death of 10 people was confirmed on Sunday after a tourist boat with a total of 26 passengers and crew on board disappeared in rough seas off a World Heritage site on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido the previous day, the country’s Coast Guard said.
Planes and ships dispatched by the Japan Coast Guard and Self-Defense Forces continue to search for the remaining 16 people and the 19-ton boat Kazu I, which lost contact after reporting it around 1:15 p.m. Saturday clock got into water.
Photo taken by a Kyodo News helicopter on April 24, 2022 shows search and rescue operations underway in the Sea of Okhotsk off the Shiretoko Peninsula on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido when a tourist boat carrying over 20 passengers and crew went missing the area the day before. (Kyodo) == Kyodo
The 24 passengers on board were between under 10 and 70 years old, including two children, according to the Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation.
Nine of the 10 confirmed dead were found in the water or on nearby rocks about 10 kilometers from where the boat made its first rescue call. Of the 10, seven were men and three were women, according to the Coast Guard.
The boat left the port in the town of Shari around 10 a.m. Saturday for a cruise along the Shiretoko Peninsula. All are said to have worn life jackets.
The ship, with a 54-year-old captain and a 27-year-old deckhand, told its operator Shiretoko Yuransen that it pitched 30 degrees around 2 p.m. before losing contact, the Coast Guard said.
On Sunday, a group of people, apparently family members and acquaintances of the passengers, visited a town hall where an emergency call center was set up.
A man was heard yelling at staff, “How are you handling the situation? i need information Please do something as soon as possible.” A 61-year-old man, who said he knew the boat’s captain, prayed for his safety and said, “I hope he comes back.”
Fishing boats and tourist ships from the area joined the search in the morning, but some returned to port a few hours later due to strong winds.
“I hope they’re all saved, but I couldn’t even find anything adrift (at sea),” said a 63-year-old tourist boat captain.
The operator’s president on Sunday apologized to a few dozen people believed to be the passengers’ families and relatives, the city’s mayor said.
The incident happened while the Kazu I was in waters off Kashuni Falls, a popular lookout point near the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula, about 17 miles (27 km) northeast of the boat’s home port.
Photo taken by a Kyodo News helicopter on April 24, 2022 shows fishing vessels searching for a tourist boat that, with its more than 20 passengers and crew, was stranded the day before in the Sea of Okhotsk off Shiretoko Peninsula in Japan’s northernmost Hokkaido was gone main island. (Kyodo) == Kyodo
Water temperatures in the area have hovered around 2C to 4C for the past few days and high waves and high winds were observed around Saturday noon, according to the local fishing cooperative. His fishing boats returned to port before noon because of the bad weather, sources said.
The Kazu I was the first tourist boat to operate in the area this season. After wind and surf advisories were issued in the area on Saturday, a captain from another tourist boat operator said he had advised the Kazu I crew not to leave port.
A local pub operator said the crew “could have chosen to come back. They might have tried too hard because it’s tourism season.”
Japan will soon enter the Golden Week holiday until early May, but local tourist boat companies said they decided not to sail during the holiday due to the accident.
Ground, sea and air defense forces have all dispatched aircraft to help locate the passengers and crew, with the MSDF also dispatching a destroyer.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, the Kazu I collided with a floating object in May last year, injuring three passengers.
The boat also ran aground in shallow water shortly after leaving port in June, prompting the Coast Guard to refer Captain Noriyuki Toyoda to prosecutors.
The ministry launched an on-site inspection of the boat’s operator, while the Japan Transport Safety Board dispatched officers to a local Coast Guard office to investigate the incident.
Toyoda worked as an amphibious vehicle driver before moving to Shiretoko about two years ago, local residents who know him said. While they say he was a hard worker, some were concerned about his inexperience.
“I heard he worked on a lake or something,” but he doesn’t have the expertise to operate at sea, one fisherman said. Captain after captain recently left the company and Toyoda has been inundated with work, according to a local tourism industry official.
Akira Soyama, the deckhand, has only been with the company since this year, a former colleague said.
Yoshihiko Yamada, a professor in Tokai University’s School of Marine Science and Technology, said: “They should not have left the port. It was a man-made disaster.”
“Is the captain a professional? Why did the company give the go-ahead for deployment? I have many questions,” he said. “You should have had the courage to stop.”
The peninsula in northeast Hokkaido is known as a popular spot for spotting drift ice and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2005. It is a habitat for many rare animal and plant species.
Photo taken by a Kyodo News helicopter on April 24, 2022 shows the Sea of Okhotsk off the Shiretoko Peninsula on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido. Search and rescue operations are underway for a tourist boat that disappeared in the area the previous day with its more than 20 passengers and crew. (Kyodo) == Kyodo
Tourist boat with 26 missing off Hokkaido Peninsula