Sightseeing boat crew ‘warned the sea was too rough’ before it sank killing 26
THE crew of a Japanese sightseeing boat were warned the sea was too rough to go out on before it sank killing ten, with two kids among 16 missing.
They were told not to leave port by another tour operator, according to local news reports.
They told NHK news that the same boat ran aground last year and suffered a crack on its bow.
The Kazu I was cruising off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, near the scenic Kashuni Falls close to Shiretoko Peninsula when it issued the distress call yesterday.
Onboard were 24 passengers – including two children – as well as two crew members.
Saturday’s tour was said to be the first by the operator this season, which comes just a week before Japan’s Golden Week holidays season starts.
Japan is still largely closed to foreign visitors.
It comes as footage from Japan’s coast guard showed orange flotation devices emblazoned with “Kazu I” adrift at a rocky area near the peninsula.
Japan’s public broadcaster NHK showed one of the victims arriving on a helicopter and being transferred to an ambulance on a stretcher covered up by blue plastic shields to protect their identity.
Relatives were seen clutching each other tightly as they entered an ad hoc morgue storing the bodies of the victims.
Hokkaido Govenor Naomichi Suzuki told reporters on Sunday that he planned to request safety checks by tour operators in the prefecture ahead of the holidays.
Japan’s Transport Ministry launched an investigation into the boat’s operator, Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise, which had two accidents last year.
“We will thoroughly investigate what caused this situation and what kind of safety oversight was involved to allow the tour in order to prevent another accident,” Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito, who visited the area Sunday, told reporters.
The tourist ferry collided with a floating object in May last year, injuring three people and ran aground in shallow water shortly after leaving the port in June.
The Kazu I issued a distress call earlier on Saturday at 1.15pm local time (5.15am BST) to say that the 19-ton ship had been flooded at the bow and was taking in water.
They also said that the ship was keeling at a 30-degree angle and that those on board were wearing lifejackets.
The location, near the Kashuni Waterfall, is known as a difficult place to manoeuvre boats because of its rocky coastline and strong tide.
Following an intensive search involving six patrol boats, several aircraft and divers that went through the night, rescuers on early Sunday found four people near the tip of Shiretoko Peninsula and later six more in the same area, about 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) north from where the boat sent a distress call.
Some of them were plucked from the sea, while others were washed onto the rocky coast.
Average April sea temperatures in Shiretoko National Park are just above freezing, which experts say would cause hypothermia.
Yoshihiko Yamada, a Tokai University marine science professor, said the boat was likely to have run aground after it was tossed around in high waves and damaged.
A boat of that size usually does not carry a life boat, he said.
Drift ice can be seen in the sea around the area as late as March, and water temperatures would be around 2 to 3 degrees Celsius (36-37 Fahrenheit) at this time of year, an official at a local fishery cooperative told Reuters.
“Just a few minutes in that sort of water would start clouding your consciousness,” he said.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida cut short his attendance at a two-day summit in Kumamoto in southern Japan and returned to Tokyo.