Ten people have died and 16 are missing after a tourist boat capsized in the icy, choppy waters off northern Japan on Saturday, the coast guard announced on Sunday.
“We confirm the death of ten people following the sinking of the Kazu I ship,” a coast guard spokesperson told AFP, adding that the search for the missing continued. The ten fatal victims are seven men and three women.
Despite the predicted bad weather, the Kazu I left on Saturday morning with 26 people on board to skirt a flank of the Shiretoko Peninsula, a World Heritage Site for its unspoiled nature, located northeast of the large Japanese island of Hokkaido, in the north of the Japan.
“It was obvious that the state of the sea was going to get worse and I told them not to go out,” the operator of another tour boat told NHK television. “After all, they left.”
The ship “Kazu 1” sent a distress call at 1:15 pm local time on Saturday and warned that it was sinking, with one part tilted at 30 degrees.
The Coast Guard only arrived at the scene after three hours and is now heavily involved in the search alongside police and military helicopters and local fishing boats.
Two children on board
National television NHK showed footage of a helicopter and patrol boats surveying the edge of the peninsula, as well as shore lifeguards surveying a very rugged coastline, with high waves crashing against the rocks.
The ship was carrying 24 passengers, including two children, as well as two crew. All were wearing life jackets, but the water temperature during the day was two to three degrees Celsius and indeed some fishing boats returned to port early due to bad weather, according to local reports.
“The expectation was that the waves would get higher and higher. I would not have gone out to sea in those conditions”, assured a person from the same local tourism sector to the Kyodo agency on Saturday.
The Kazu I had already collapsed during an excursion last June when it hit the seafloor near its home port, according to Japanese media.
The incident caused no injuries, but an investigation was opened by the police to the ship’s captain for negligence.
UNESCO declared the Shiretoko Peninsula a World Heritage Site in 2005 for its distinctive wildlife, including the endangered Star Sea Lion, as well as migratory birds and grizzly bears.
Sightseeing boats are popular in the area with visitors coming to see whales, birds and other wildlife.