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‘Time has stopped’ for man whose wife and son remain missing after Hokkaido boat tragedy

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A man whose son remains missing after a sightseeing boat sank three months ago in Shiretoko, Hokkaido, holds his son’s backpack, which was found at the scene.

SAPPORO — Twelve people remain missing three months after the Kazu I sightseeing boat sank off the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido with 26 people aboard.

“Time has stood still for me since the accident,” said a 50-year-old man, from Makubetsu, Hokkaido, whose 7-year-old son and 42-year-old wife were aboard the vessel. “I hope they’ll be found soon.”

To date, 14 people have been confirmed dead since the boat sank on April 23. The man received a message on his phone that morning from his wife saying that they were about to board the boat. The message was accompanied by a photo of the son taken in front of Godzilla Iwa rock, a famous sightseeing point in Shiretoko.

Two days earlier, the man had waved them off, telling them to have a safe trip.

The man heard about the accident on the news. He sent a message to his wife to inquire about their safety, but it was never marked as having been read. After contacting the boat’s operator and confirming that his wife and son had been on board, he rushed to Shiretoko. He said he found it difficult to look directly at the sea, imagining that it had swallowed up his loved ones.

The boy has been a big fan of trains since he was an infant. The father and son used to check timetables and take trips together to see express trains. About two years ago, the family stayed at a hotel near Tokyo Station. The man remembers that his son was excited to see the diagnostic Shinkansen train, nicknamed “Doctor Yellow.”

Following the accident, the son’s backpack was found in the sea at the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula. In addition to snacks and other items, it contained a pair of glasses his son always wore.

“Before he jumped into the sea, he must have quickly put the glasses in the backpack so as not to lose them,” the man said, in a choked voice. “I believe that neither of them gave up hopes of living until the very end.”

The accident exposed the operator’s lax safety-management system and inadequate inspections by the central government, which failed to follow up on suggested improvements.

“It was negligent of the government to rely on the operator’s explanations and not to have checked things thoroughly,” the man said. “I hope that the cause of the accident will be clarified so that it will never happen again,”

The Japan Coast Guard continues to search the waters around Kunashiri Island and Cape Soya, employing several vessels and an aircraft.