Child’s body found east of cape in Shiretoko tour boat accident

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A plane searches off the coast of Cape Shiretoko in Hokkaido on Monday.

The 1st Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Otaru, Hokkaido, said Monday that a child was found in the sea east of Cape Shiretoko and confirmed dead. The child is the 11th person dead from the accident in which a sightseeing boat went missing on Saturday with 26 people aboard.

The Japan Coast Guard plans to investigate the deaths with an eye toward possible charges of professional negligence resulting in death and traffic endangerment caused by professional negligence.

According to the coast guard, the child was found without a life jacket by a Hokkaido fishing surveillance vessel at around 8:55 p.m. Sunday, 14.5 kilometers east of the lighthouse at the tip of Cape Shiretoko. The 26 passengers and crew members are believed to have included a 7-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, but the sex and age of the child found has not been revealed.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Ten victims who were confirmed dead on Sunday were all found at sea or on rocks on the west side of Cape Shiretoko, where the boat disappeared. According to local fishermen and others, the sea current flows from west to east on the west side of the peninsula, so it is possible that the remaining 15 missing people were swept away to the waters on the east side of the peninsula. The JCG continued the search for missing people on Monday with six patrol boats and eight aircraft, expanding the search area to the waters east of the peninsula.

The vessel’s hull had not yet been found as of Monday morning. The coast guard believes that the 19-ton Kazu I may have sunk. The area around the site is said to be about 100 meters deep in some places and sonar has been used since Sunday to search the seafloor and other areas.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A police helicopter conducts a search near Cape Shiretoko in Hokkaido on Monday.

Boat had 2 accidents last year

The Kazu I was operated by Shiretoko Pleasure Boat based in Shari, Hokkaido, and the company was recently audited by the government after two accidents last year.

According to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, the operation of sightseeing boats with a capacity of 13 or more passengers falls under the passenger ship business under the Maritime Transportation Law and requires a permit from the ministry. Each operator is required to establish its own operational standards for safety and its vessels must undergo periodic inspections in accordance with the Ship Safety Law.

The company obtained a passenger boat business license in 2001 and has about eight employees and owns two vessels. Kazu I was inspected on April 20, when the hull was checked and nothing was found out of the ordinary.

Last year, however, Kazu I had two accidents. On May 15, it collided with a clump of drifting rope and three passengers sustained bruises and other minor injuries as a result of the impact. On June 11, the boat ran aground in shallow water, with no injuries reported.

In response, the transport ministry’s Hokkaido District Transport Bureau conducted an audit of the company in June. In addition to demanding compliance with standards for safe operation, the authority also instructed the company to keep appropriate records of boat operations and inspections. The company submitted an improvement report based on the guidance, which included measures such as strengthening surveillance to prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.

The ministry is conducting a special audit in response to the latest incident to confirm whether the company was complying with safe operating standards and ascertain the circumstances surrounding the departure of the boat.