Search Continues for 16 Still Missing From Tour Boat Accident

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Tour Boat
Courtesy of NATO North Atlantic Treaty (Flickr CC0)

Tour Boat Kazu 1 search operation is continuing for 16 people still missing. The sightseeing tour boat went missing in the frigid waters of the northeastern tip of Japan’s Hokkaido region after it sent a distress signal mid-day Saturday stating the vessel’s bow had flooded, and that it was starting to dip and stagger.

Sightseeing boat trips are popular for visitors hoping to spot birds, whales, other wildlife, and drift ice during winter. Japan’s borders are closed to tourists because of COVID-19 rules, so sightseeing is only limited to Japanese citizens and residents.

Search and rescue operations commenced right away, but hopes faded for the 26 people including two children because of the cold temperature. The 19 hours of intense search involves several aircraft, six patrol boats, and divers. Local police and Self Defense Forces joined the rescue operation, and the first four people were found earlier on Sunday, with six more being retrieved in the subsequent hours.

Some individuals were discovered in the water, while others along the rugged shoreline.

The average April ocean temperatures in Shiretoko National Park are slightly above freezing. By evening, the air temperature plunged to roughly 32 degrees Fahrenheit (zero C), and no indication of either the vessel or the passengers on board. Still, the search persisted overnight with thermal and infrared gear.

Tour Boat
Courtesy of David McKelvey (Flickr CC0)

At least ten people were confirmed dead Sunday and identified as three women and seven men.

The tour boat set out on a sightseeing cruise in the Shiretoko Peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its diverse wildlife and pristine natural environment.

Strong wind and high waves were reported around the area that Saturday afternoon. Fishing boats have returned to port due to bad weather. Despite high waves, and strong winds the tour boat went ahead. Some local fishing boats evoked it to return to the coast because of aggravating conditions.

The Transport Ministry launched an inquisition into the boat operator over its safeness standards and its judgment to accomplish the Saturday tour despite rough weather.

The ministry will also investigate how the incident relates to two prior accidents. Coast guards confirmed that the same boat went stranded last June, though nobody was injured. In May, this same boat slammed with an object at sea, causing nominal damages to three passengers.

The cause of the accident is still under investigation, but experts question the safety negligence. Strong winds and high waves were observed in the area around noon. NHK reported a warning for 9 feet (3 meters) high waves and fishing boats had returned to port before noon because of the bad weather. A tour boat from another operator told NHK they warned Kazu 1 about rough seas.

Tokai University marine science professor, Yoshihiko Yamada said the boat was probably tossed around in high waves and damaged, flooded, and sank. A tour boat that size does not normally have a lifeboat, and passengers could not escape a rapidly sinking vessel because the windows were closed to shield them from strong winds. The strong wind and low temperature caused hypothermia.

Written by Janet Grace Ortigas
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware

Sources:

NPR:  Rescue operation for missing tour boat in Japan intensifies
NDCDFW: Rescue Operation for Missing Tour Boat in Japan Intensifies; by Mari Yamaguchi
Daily News: 10 dead, 16 missing in Japan sightseeing boat accident

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of NATO North Atlantic Treaty’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of David McKelvey’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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