TOKYO – All 26 people aboard a tour boat were reported missing on Saturday off the coast of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island, after the boat issued a distress call to the Japanese coast guard early in the afternoon, saying it was sinking .
The Coast Guard dispatched rescue boats and planes after the tourist cruiser crew called to say the ship was tilting 30 degrees near the Shiretoko Peninsula on Hokkaido’s eastern coast.
According to public broadcaster NHK, the first rescue call came at around 1:15 PM from the KAZU 1, a tour vessel that was on a scheduled three-hour round trip to the tip of Cape Shiretoko. A Coast Guard regional unit in Hokkaido told NHK that the crew had reported the boat going into the water. At 3 p.m. a last call came to the company
Tetsuo Saito, Japan’s minister of land, infrastructure, transportation and tourism, told reporters late Saturday that coast guard boats were on the scene around 4:30 p.m. and had not yet found any survivors.
Saito said there were 24 passengers on board, including two children, along with the captain and a deck officer. They were all wearing life jackets, he said.
NHK reported early Sunday that four people had been found from the boat, but did not provide any information about their condition.
According to NHK, the Coast Guard sent five patrol vessels and two planes in rough winds to the area of the famous Kashuni Falls, where the boat was when the first call came in and where reefs are hidden under the sea. The public broadcaster reported that there had been a warning on Saturday for waves up to 3 meters high.
A man who answered the phone late Saturday night with Shiretoko Pleasure Cruiser, the owner of the tourist boat, said he was unable to answer questions because he had to “prioritise to talk to the families first.”
The Shiretoko Pleasure Cruiser website advertises the three-hour Shiretoko Cape tour as an opportunity for tourists to see Kashuni Falls, as well as brown bears, eagles, dolphins, and whales. “It’s a really unexplored area that can only be reached by boat,” reads the itinerary.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida returned to Tokyo early from Kumamoto, according to NHK, where he attended a conference.
Hikari Hida reporting contributed.