Japan finds wreck of missing tourist boat Kazu I

Japan located the hull of sunken tour boat Kazu I off its northern coast on Friday April 29th, media said, six days after the vessel disappeared in an accident that killed at least 14 people, and almost certainly all 26 on board, 24 of whom were on a sightseeing trip and two of whom were crew.

Broadcaster NHK said that the hull of the Kazu I had been identified in waters about 100 metres deep off the Shiretoko peninsula on the northern island of Hokkaido, using footage from an underwater camera of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force.

The boat had sunk the previous Saturday after departing for a tour of the peninsula with hazardous weather forecast.

Seiichi Katsurada, president of Shiretoko Yuransen, the operator of the Kazu I, apologized on his hands and knees on April 27th for what he described as a “misjudgment”.’ He admitted that the company’s decision to approve the departure despite the chance of bad weather was inappropriate. “I made the final decision to depart on the condition that the captain make the decision to turn back if the seas got rough,” Seiichi Katsurada, the president of Shiretoko Yuransen, said in his first press conference since the 19-ton Kazu I went missing. “In retrospect, my judgment was wrong.” Katsurada said he and Noriyuki Toyoda, the 54-year-old captain of the vessel, had met on the morning of the incident and determined the sea conditions were calm enough for the tour to depart at 10am.

Meeting with around 60 family members prior to the press conference, Katsurada twice fell to his knees and placed his forehead on the floor as he apologized in a trembling voice, according to attendees. He also made the same pose in apology three times during the two-and-a-half-hour press conference.

According to the Shari-based company, it was another tourist boat firm in the town, which was in contact with the Kazu I, that first notified the Japan Coast Guard of its rouble at 13:18 local time. Katsurada said he had known that the radio antenna at his office was broken on that day, but he did not feel it warranted cancelling the tour as “we could communicate via cell phones or other operators’ radios.”

Before contact was lost the captain told its operator at around 14:00 local time on April 23rd that it was listing 30 degrees, according to the coast guard.

The Japanese Coast Guard is investigating the incident with the possibility of building a case against the boat’s operator on charges of professional negligence resulting in death or endangering traffic.

Most of the local fishing boats had remained in port due to anticipated high waves and strong winds on the day of the incident, and acquaintances warned Toyoda not to go out to sea. Regarding Katsurada’s decision to depart “conditionally” when bad weather was forecast, the transport ministry said last week that “no such concept exists in our safety management regulations.”

It was also reported that more than half of Shiretoko Yuransen’s staff, including crew, had quit over the past two years, leaving only three in recent days, according to people familiar with the company.

The incident occurred ahead of Japan’s Golden Week holidays in early May. The Kazu I was the first tourist boat operating in the area this season.