TOKYO — At least 10 people on a tour boat that sank off the Japanese island of Hokkaido on Saturday have been killed, the Japanese coastguard said on Sunday. Sixteen other people were still missing.
The ship had 24 passengers on board when the two crew members put out a distress call on Saturday afternoon announcing that the boat was about to create water. Less than an hour later, another call came, stating that the ship was now tilted by 30 degrees.
That was the last message from the Kazu 1, as the boat was called. Sunday afternoon, after more than 24 hours of searching for survivors, the Coast Guard said 10 of the 26 missing people had been recovered, all of whom were later pronounced dead.
It was not immediately clear what had caused the disaster. But NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster, said it had warned of high winds and waves up to 10 feet in the area of Kashuni Falls, a well-known landmark on Hokkaido’s Shiretoko Peninsula, where the boat had been when the first distress call was sent. . Reefs are there just below the surface of the water.
Naomichi Suzuki, the governor of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, said police officers and members of the Japanese self-defense forces had assisted in the search, in waters colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Shiretoko Pleasure Cruiser, the company that owns the Kazu 1, said the boat left the port of Utoro, in eastern Hokkaido, at 10 a.m. Saturday. It was scheduled to travel around the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula and return to Utoro around 1:00 PM
But somewhere along the way, the 19-ton ship, piloted by a 54-year-old captain with the help of a 27-year-old deck officer, ran into trouble and began to flood.
The Coast Guard sent five patrol vessels and two aircraft to the area. By the time they arrived, there was no sign of the boat or of the people who had been on board, said Tetsuo Saito, Japan’s minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism.
Early Sunday morning, three people were found at sea, all unresponsive, and taken by helicopter to a hospital in Utoro. Another unresponsive person was found on the rocks on the coast near Cape Shiretoko, and six more were found later on Sunday.
Tetsuya Umemoto, a spokesman for the Abashiri branch of the Coast Guard, said the Kazu 1 ran aground as late as June. None of the 21 passengers on board were injured at the time, but the Coast Guard investigated the incident and referred the captain to prosecutors for negligence, Mr Umemoto said. He said the then-deck officer, Noriyuki Toyoda, was the captain on Saturday’s voyage.