Child confirmed dead as Japan boat accident toll rises to 11

Fishing boats leave a port in the Hokkaido town of Shari to conduct a search operation for missing people aboard the ‘Kazu I’ sightseeing boat April 25, 2022. — AFP pic
Fishing boats leave a port in the Hokkaido town of Shari to conduct a search operation for missing people aboard the ‘Kazu I’ sightseeing boat April 25, 2022. — AFP pic

TOKYO, April 25 — Japanese rescuers today confirmed the death of a child in a weekend sightseeing boat accident, raising the death toll to at least 11, as efforts to find survivors continued.

The Kazu I was carrying 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew when it sent a distress signal on Saturday afternoon as it began to take on water in the frigid waters off Japan’s northern Hokkaido island.

Ten people were recovered and confirmed dead by early Sunday evening, and the coast guard said it retrieved a child later that night, whose death was confirmed this morning.

The boat sent the distress signal from off the coast of Japan’s Shiretoko Peninsula, prompting the launch of an immediate search-and-rescue operation, though the remote nature of the location meant it took several hours for coast guard vessels and helicopters to arrive on the scene.

All those on board were reportedly wearing life jackets, but hopes for survivors faded due to icy temperatures, with the water estimated to be at around two or three degrees Celsius.

The boat had set out on Saturday morning on a sightseeing cruise of the sort that is popular in the Shiretoko Peninsula, a designated Unesco World Heritage site for its pristine natural environment and diverse wildlife.

The tour went ahead despite high winds and waves that reportedly prompted some local fishing boats to return to shore to avoid the worsening conditions.

Japan’s Self Defence Forces and police, as well as some local fishing boats, were assisting in the search operation, with local media saying bodies had been retrieved from both the water and coast.

The transport ministry has sent officials to the company that operated the sightseeing boat to determine whether they were operating within safety guidelines, and to investigate the cause of the accident, a ministry spokesman told AFP.

‘Praying for their safety’

Those killed in the accident have not yet been identified, though officials said they included seven men and three women, in addition to the child.

A man whose parents and brother were on the boat told the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper that he had given them the tour as a present.

“They may still be in the cold sea, but I’m praying for their safety,” he told the newspaper.

He said his parents had messaged him earlier in their trip to ask what souvenirs he would like, and soon after some crab and other Hokkaido specialities arrived at his house.

He messaged them to say thank you, but got no reply.

“I want to find out what happened to them as soon as possible, but I don’t know what to do,” he added.

The Kazu I ran aground in shallow water in June last year, becoming stranded with 21 passengers and two crew members on board, according to Japanese media.

The boat was able to leave the shallows on its own and returned to the port, but police investigated its captain for endangering traffic by negligence in the conduct of business.

The Shiretoko Peninsula was designated a Unesco world heritage site in 2005. It is well known for its unique wildlife, including the endangered Steller sea lion, as well as migratory birds and brown bears. — AFP