10 of 26 people from sunken Japan tour boat confirmed dead


TOKYO: Japan’s guard says 10 of the 26 people aboard a tour boat that sank in the frigid waters of a northern national park have been confirmed dead.

The search for the others is still ongoing a day after the boat sent a distress call saying it was sinking. The coast guard said Sunday that the bodies of the 10 victims included seven men and three women.

There were two crew and 24 passengers, including two children, on the tour boat when it ran into troubles on Saturday afternoon near the tip of Shiretoko Peninsula. The location is known as a difficult place to maneuver boats because of its rocky coastline.

The Japanese Coast Guard said Sunday that rescue helicopters found nine of the 26 people from a tour boat missing in the frigid waters of northern Japan since the day before, but their conditions are unknown.

The Transport Ministry has launched an investigation into the boat’s operator, 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 ministry will also investigate if or how Saturday’s accident was related to two previous accidents involving the same boat last year, Saito said. The operator had been instructed to take steps to improve its safety following the incidents.

The coast guard confirmed that the same boat went aground in the area last June, though nobody was injured in that accident. In May, the boat collided with an object at sea, causing minor injuries to three passengers.

Rescuers intensified their search earlier Sunday and found four people near the tip of Shiretoko Peninsula and five more people in the same area a few hours later, but the coast guard said it could not confirm whether they were rescued alive. NHK public television said they were unconscious.

The coast guard said all nine people were found in the area near the tip of the peninsula north of where the boat sent a distress call on Saturday.

The 19-ton Kazu 1 made an emergency call early Saturday afternoon, saying the ship’s bow had flooded and that it was beginning to sink and tilt, while traveling off the western coast of Shiretoko Peninsula on the northern island of Hokkaido, the coast guard said.

The tour boat has since lost contact, according to the coast guard. Seventeen people are still missing. The coast guard said the operator told them that everyone on the boat was wearing a life vest.

Average April sea temperatures in Shiretoko National Park are just above freezing.

An official for the vessel’s operator, Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise, said he could not comment because he had to respond to calls from worried families of the passengers.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was attending a two-day summit in Kumamoto in southern Japan, canceled his program for the second day and returned to Tokyo. He told reporters in the early hours of Sunday that he instructed officials “to do everything they can for the rescue.” -China Daily