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Japan tour boat likely flooded through hatch

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The salvaged Kazu I is seen at a storage facility near Abashiri Port in Hokkaido in October.

The Kazu I sightseeing boat, which sank off the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido in April with 26 people aboard, likely flooded because the bow hatch was not closed, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Friday.

The Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB), which reportedly is leaning toward this explanation, is planning to announce the details of its investigation as early as next week, according to sources.

The hatch cover was found on the seabed near the sunken boat, and it is possible it became detached while sailing, the sources said.

At the time of the accident, the Kazu I made an emergency call saying the ship’s bow had flooded causing the vessel to start sinking and the engine was not working.

The JTSB believes seawater flowed through the hatch into the lower bow hold, the sources said. The Kazu I is divided into four compartments below deck, including the hold, the engine room and the rudder room, with each compartment separated by partition walls.

When the ship was salvaged and examined, holes were found in three partition walls.

The JTSB is said to believe that seawater entered through the bow hatch and flowed into the engine room and other areas the hold through these holes.

Twenty people, including the captain, have been confirmed dead due to the sinking; six others remain missing. The Japan Coast Guard is continuing its investigation on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death.

A working group set up by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry to look into the cause of the tragedy plans to compile measures by the end of this month with the aim of preventing recurrence.

The group plans to consider incorporating the JTSB’s findings into the measures.