A Japanese tourist boat with more than twenty people on board, including two children, went missing early Saturday morning in the waters off the northern island of Hokkaido.
The 19-ton ship Kazu 1 made an emergency distress call at about 1:15 p.m. local time, alerting authorities that the ship was sinking and the bow of the ship had sunk. The boat was carrying 24 passengers and two crew. Two of the passengers were children.
The boat was last seen off the western side of the Shiretoko Peninsula. The waters off the peninsula are said to be just above freezing, and the area is known for its floating ice.
Boats like the Kazu 1 may not have been carrying a lifeboat, Yoshihiko Yamada, a professor of marine sciences at Tokai University, said. The ship was equipped with life jackets.
He told local TBS television that the ship had probably run aground and sank, adding that it was also possible that a whale native to the area had collided with the ship. Experts said that fatal hypothermia would be a distinct possibility given the extremely cold local temperatures.
Five Japanese Coast Guard boats and a helicopter were sent to comb the area for any trace of the boat or survivors, but nothing was found until Saturday evening local time. The country’s Air Self-Defense Force has also been activated and the Japanese Ministry of Transportation will set up a task force to investigate.
The tour boat is operated by the Shiretoko Pleasure Cruiser, who declined media inquiries on Saturday.
We have received a lot of calls from the families of the passengers. We have to deal with it first,” a company spokesperson in kyodo news.
Strong waves up to nine feet and strong winds were observed in the area and locals reported that fishing boats returned early due to bad weather.
Kyodo News also reported that other boat operators refused to sail that day due to bad weather.
The waves were expected to rise gradually. An industry insider said, according to Kyodo News, I wouldn’t have been able to navigate in today’s conditions.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has directed his cabinet to “do everything in their power to save lives,” The Japan Times reported.
Kishida, who was attending a two-day summit in southern Japan, abruptly canceled his scheduled Sunday schedule to return to Tokyo for the crisis.
It’s not the first time Kazu has run into trouble. Local coast guard records said the boat ran aground in June in an accident. There were no reports of injuries.
Kazu 1 can accommodate up to 65 people. The Shiretoko Peninsula is a popular destination for tourists and was named a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site in 2005. The area is also home to a number of species including dolphins and brown bear.
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