Ten confirmed dead after tour boat and 26 missing off Hokkaido

Ten people were confirmed dead on Sunday after a tourist boat with a total of 26 passengers and crew on board went missing in rough waters the day before off a World Heritage site on the island of Hokkaido, the country’s coast guard said.

Aircraft and vessels dispatched by the Japan Coast Guard and Self-Defense Forces continued their rescue efforts after the 19-tonne Kazu I lost contact after reporting it was taking on water around 1.15pm on Saturday . The 24 passengers on board included two children.

Rescuers transport a person found in the waters off Hokkaido to the town of Shari on Sunday after a tour boat went missing a day earlier in the waters off Cape Shiretoko. | KYODO

Nine of the 10 people were found in the water or on rocks about 10 kilometers from where the boat made its first rescue call. Authorities continue to search for the remaining 16 people and the boat.

The boat left Shari town port around 10 a.m. Saturday, and all were wearing life jackets.

The vessel, staffed by a 54-year-old captain and a 27-year-old deckhand, told its operator, Shiretoko Yuransen, that it heeled to 30 degrees around 2 p.m. before losing contact, according to the coastguards.

On Sunday, a group of people, apparently family members and acquaintances of the passengers, went to a town hall where a relief headquarters had been set up.

This photo taken and released April 24, 2022 by the 1st Regional Coast Guard Headquarters shows personnel conducting a search and rescue operation for those aboard the missing tourist boat Kazu I in a rocky coastal area of ​​the Peninsula of Shiretoko in Hokkaido.  |  1ST REGIONAL COAST GUARD HQ / VIA AFP-JIJI
This photo taken and released April 24, 2022 by the 1st Regional Coast Guard Headquarters shows personnel conducting a search and rescue operation for those aboard the missing tourist boat Kazu I in a rocky coastal area of ​​the Peninsula of Shiretoko in Hokkaido. | 1ST REGIONAL COAST GUARD HQ / VIA AFP-JIJI

A man was heard shouting at the staff: “How are you handling the situation? I need information. Please do something ASAP.

A 61-year-old man who said he knew the captain of the boat prayed for his safety, saying: “I hope he comes back”.

Fishing boats and tourist vessels from the area joined the search in the morning, but some returned to port hours later due to strong winds.

“I hope they will all be rescued, but I didn’t even find anything adrift (at sea),” said the 63-year-old captain of a tourist boat.

The incident happened while the Kazu I was in the waters off Kashuni Falls, a popular scenic spot near the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula, about 27 km northeast of the port of boat tether.

The water temperature in the area has been around 2 to 4 degrees Celsius for the past few days, and high waves and strong winds were seen around noon on Saturday, according to the local fishing cooperative. His fishing boats returned to port before noon due to bad weather, he said.

The Kazu I was the first tourist boat to operate in the region this season. With wind and high wave advisories issued in the area on Saturday, a captain from another tourist boat operator said he advised the crew of Kazu I not to leave port.

A local hostel operator said the crew “could have decided to come back. Maybe they tried too hard because it’s tourist season.

The nation will soon enter the Golden Week holiday through early May.

The ground, sea and air self-defense forces all dispatched planes to help search for passengers and crew, with the MSDF also sending 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 June in shallow water shortly after leaving port.

The ministry began an on-site inspection of the boat operator, while the Japan Transportation Safety Board dispatched officials to a local coastguard office to investigate the incident.

The peninsula northeast of Hokkaido is known as a popular destination for spotting drifting ice and was designated a World Natural Heritage Site in 2005. It is a habitat for many rare species of animals and plants.

The Kazu I tour boat disappeared on Saturday with 26 people on board, including two children.  |  KYODO
The Kazu I tour boat disappeared on Saturday with 26 people on board, including two children. | KYODO

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