Tougher penalties sought after Shiretoko tour boat accident

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The Kazu I sightseeing boat is loaded onto a trailer at Abashiri Port in Abashiri, Hokkaido, on June 1.

Draft plans released Thursday in response to a fatal tour boat accident off Hokkaido call for tougher penalties for business operators and strengthening inspections, among other measures.

The Kazu I sightseeing boat sank April 23 off the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido, leaving 26 people aboard dead or missing. The Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism Ministry will work to revise related laws and establish new systems to prevent similar accidents in the future.

In the draft interim plans, a panel established by the ministry called Thursday for clarifying the criteria for punishment before stiffening penalties. It proposed the introduction of a point system for business operators who cause accidents or are found to be in violation of safety management regulations.

Under the system, penalties will become more severe as points accumulate, resulting in such measures as “suspension of vessel use,” “suspension of business” or “revocation of license.”

The panel sought to extend the period that a business cannot operate after the revocation of a license from the current two years to five. The current penalty for disobeying an order to take necessary measures to operate a vessel safely is a fine of up to ¥1 million, but the panel also wants this heightened to jail time.

The ministry likewise intends to impose heavier fines on operating companies, with the amount of the fines and other details to be considered in the future.

Under the interim plans, the inspection system would be strengthened by increasing the frequency of checks and conducting unannounced and remote inspections. Matters that are currently approved based on an application, such as confirming the requirements for an operations manager, will also become subject to fact-checking, including interviews with the applicant and a third party.

The ministry intends to finalize the plans as early as the end of the year, based on the results of the investigation into the Shiretoko accident, while working on the specifics of these systems and laying the groundwork to implement the measures.