Japan boat disaster firm lacked legally required staffer

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Japan Coast Guard personnel remove items from a vessel owned by Shiretoko Pleasure Boat at Utoro fishing port in Shari, Hokkaido, on Tuesday.

The operator of the Kazu I tour boat that sank last month off the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido with 26 people aboard did not assign an assistant to act as a substitute operations manager, it has been learned.

Failure to do so would amount to a violation of the law on the part of Shiretoko Pleasure Boat and its president, Seiichi Katsurada.

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry is considering taking administrative action against the company for significant deficiencies in safety management, sources close to the ministry said Thursday.

Safety management regulations submitted to the government by Shiretoko Pleasure Boat state that Katsurada, 58, would double as chief safety management officer and as operations manager. The latter role involves acting as the on-shore safety management representative while a boat is operating. However, in the case of the Kazu I’s fatal journey, the space where the assistant’s name should have been written was blank, the sources said.

Under the Maritime Transportation Law, it is not mandatory to appoint an assistant to act as an operations manager, but an assistant must be declared when the operations manager leaves the office while a vessel is operating.

As the company did not appoint an assistant, Katsurada should have been in the office at all times while the Kazu I was operating.

On the day of the accident, Katsurada was absent from the office on business.

In a document distributed to the passengers’ families, Katsurada said the firm’s assistant manager was not in the office at the time of the accident. In reality, the company did not have staff to carry out the role while the boat was at sea.

Operating a vessel without an operations manager or an assistant violates the Maritime Transportation Law. Depending on the results of a special audit, the ministry could impose severe penalties on the firm, such as suspending its operations or revoking its license.