Wrong decision to set sail invited disaster

The boat operating company has grave responsibility for allowing the vessel to set sail with many tourists on board amid the expectation of inclement weather. This was flagrant disregard for safety.

The president of the boat operator has held a press conference on the accident of the sightseeing boat carrying 26 passengers and crew that met disaster off the coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido.

The wind and waves were not strong before departure, the president said, so he consulted with the captain and the decision was made to sail on the condition that the boat would return if the seas became rough. However, gale and high wave advisories were issued for the surrounding area around the time the boat left port.

While the company president himself said of his decision, “In hindsight, this was a mistake,” the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry said giving the green light based on the thinking that the boat could “set sail on a conditional basis” was beyond belief, stressing that if inclement weather is expected, sailing must not be allowed.

There may be no doubt that the cause of the disaster was misjudgment by the president and whomever else he consulted.

In addition, on the day of the accident, the company’s radio equipment to communicate with the boat was broken. Even so, the president and others did not cancel the sailing. At the press conference, as if trying to shirk responsibility, the president repeated remarks such as there were sometimes requests from passengers who wanted to sail even in inclement weather.

It must be said that the president lacks awareness that he is responsible for many lives. Given that, it is inevitable if people say he has prioritized profit over human life.

The disaster-hit boat this time was involved in two accidents last year. In January this year, the captain was referred to prosecutors on suspicion of endangering traffic by negligence in the conduct of business over an accident where the ship ran aground. It has also been pointed out that many staff members left the company by last year and the captain had little experience in actual sailing situations.

In response to the two accidents, the central government gave administrative guidance to the operator last year, but failed to prevent another accident this time. Weren’t there problems with the way the administrative guidance was given to the company?

On April 28, the transport ministry set up a panel of experts to review the safe operation of tour boats and the content of administrative guidance, among other matters. Such a tragedy must not be repeated. Concrete measures should be considered to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents, including strengthening supervision of operating companies.

The victims included a person known as a leader who actively participated in community activities and promising young people at a company. There was also a 3-year-old girl who had started to attend a kindergarten this spring.

They must have never imagined that they would be involved in such an accident at the travel destination they had been looking forward to.

The accident also has sent shock waves to tourist spots across the country just ahead of the Golden Week holiday season. All those involved in tourism should work on inspecting facilities and equipment, while bearing in mind once again that ensuring safety is the highest priority.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 29, 2022)