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Japan’s guard says 10 of the 26 people aboard a tour boat that sank in the cold water of a northern national park have been confirmed dead.
The search for the others is still ongoing 24 hours after the boat sent an emergency call that it was about to sink.
The Coast Guard said Sunday that the bodies of the 10 victims included seven men and three women.
There were two crew members and 24 passengers, including two children, on the tour boat as it ran into trouble Saturday afternoon near the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula.
The location is known as a difficult place to maneuver boats due to its rocky shore.
The Ministry of Transport has launched an investigation into the boat’s operator, who had two accidents last year.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. The AP’s past history follows below.
The Japanese Coast Guard said Sunday that rescue helicopters found nine of the 26 people from a tour boat missing in the cold waters of northern Japan since the day before, but their circumstances are unknown.
The Ministry of Transport has meanwhile launched an investigation by the boat’s operator into its safety standards and its decision to complete the trip despite severe weather on Saturday.
TOUR BOAT WITH 26 ON BOARD MISSED IN NORTHERN JAPAN AFTER EMERGENCY CALL
“We will thoroughly investigate what caused this situation and what kind of safety oversight was involved to allow the trip to prevent another accident,” Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito, who visited the area on Sunday, told reporters.
The ministry will also investigate whether or how Saturday’s accident was related to two previous accidents with the same boat last year, Saito said. The operator had been instructed to take steps to improve its safety after the incidents.
The Coast Guard confirmed that the same boat ran aground in the area last June, although no one was injured in the accident. In May, the boat collided with an object at sea, causing minor damage to three passengers.
Rescuers intensified their search earlier Sunday and found four people near the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula and five more in the same area a few hours later, but the Coast Guard said it could not confirm if they were rescued alive. NHK public television said they were unconscious.
The Coast Guard said all nine people were found in the area near the tip of the peninsula north of where the boat sent an emergency call Saturday. The location is known as a difficult place to maneuver boats due to its rocky shore.
Footage at NHK showed one of the rescuers arriving by helicopter and being transferred to an ambulance on a stretcher while rescuers held blue plastic shields for privacy.
An orange, square life raft with the boat’s name on it was also seen on the rocky shore.
The boat with 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew members disappeared after sending an emergency call that said it was taking water and began to sink.
The first report of Sunday’s rescue came after nearly 19 hours of intense search involving six patrol boats, several aircraft and divers. The Coast Guard said the search continued overnight and has since been expanded, with local fishing and tour boats taking part in the operation, while the self-defense force sent a destroyer and three aircraft.
The 19-tonne Kazu 1 made an emergency call early Saturday afternoon, saying the ship’s bow was flooded and that it began to sink and tilt as it sailed off the west coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula on the northern island of Hokkaido, the Coast Guard said. . .
The tour boat has since lost contact, the Coast Guard informs. 17 people are still missing. The Coast Guard said the operator told them everyone on the boat was wearing a life jacket.
Average sea temperatures in April in Shiretoko National Park are just above freezing.
An official of the vessel’s operator, Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise, said he could not comment because he had to respond to calls from concerned families to the passengers.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who attended a two-day summit in Kumamoto in southern Japan, canceled his program for the second day and returned to Tokyo. He told reporters in the early hours of Sunday that he was instructing officials “to do everything they can for the rescue.”
The cause of the accident is still under investigation, but experts suspect there may be a safety neglect, and the boat ran aground and was damaged in rough seas in an area known for strong currents and a rocky shoreline.
High waves and strong winds were observed in the area around noon, according to a local fishing cooperative. Japanese media report that fishing boats had returned to port before noon due to the bad weather.
NHK said there was a warning for high waves of up to 3 meters (9 feet).
A tour boat crew belonging to another operator told NHK that he was warning of rough seas when he spotted the Kazu 1 crew and told them not to go. He said the same boat ran aground last year and got a crack in the bow.
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Yoshihiko Yamada, a professor of marine science at Tokai University, said the boat probably ran aground after being tossed around in high waves and damaged, flooded and likely sank. A tour boat of that size usually does not have a lifeboat, and passengers may not be able to escape a rapidly sinking vessel with the windows likely closed to protect them from strong winds.
In an interview with TBS TV, Yamada said there was also a small possibility that the boat could have been hit by a whale.
The cold temperature and strong winds can cause hypothermia and put passengers in difficult conditions to survive, according to Jun Abe, vice president of the Society of Water Rescue and Survival Research. “It’s a very serious condition, especially when wet,” Abe told TBS.
According to the operator’s website, the trip takes about three hours and offers scenic views of the peninsula’s west coast and includes potential sightings of animals such as whales, dolphins and brown bears. The national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is famous as the southernmost region for seeing drifting sea ice.