Japan finds nine from missing boat, condition unclear


TOKYO, April 24, 2022 (AFP): Rescuers said Sunday they had found nine people, most of them unresponsive, from a boat that sank off Japan's northern coast with 26 on board a day earlier.

"As of 11am (0200GMT), coastguard aircraft have rescued four people, local police aircraft rescued four people and a Self Defence Force aircraft rescued one person from waters or rocky coastal areas," Japan's coastguard said in a press release.

Earlier, local officials and media said those retrieved so far were unresponsive, though the exact condition of all nine was not immediately clear.

Those rescued so far were being taken to medical facilities, with national broadcaster NHK showing at least one person on a stretcher being moved by rescue workers from a helicopter to an ambulance.

Search and rescue operations were continuing for others still missing from the Kazu I, which sent a distress signal at 1:13 pm (0413 GMT) on Saturday saying it was sinking in the frigid waters off Japan's northeastern coast.

The sightseeing boat with 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew on board said its bow was flooded.

The coastguard sent seven vessels and five aircraft for the search and rescue mission Sunday, joined by police and military helicopters as well as other local fishing boats.

- High winds and waves -

The Shiretoko Peninsula was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005. It is well known for its unique wildlife, including the endangered Steller sea lion, as well as migratory birds and brown bears.

Sightseeing boat trips in the area are popular for visitors hoping to spot whales, birds and other wildlife, as well as drift ice in the winter.

Japan's borders remain closed to tourists because of Covid-19 rules, so sightseeing in the country is effectively limited to residents and Japanese citizens.

Conditions on Saturday were rough, with high waves and strong winds that reportedly prompted some local fishing boats to return to shore early.

The daytime water temperature in the area was around two to three degrees Celsius.

The Kazu I ran aground in shallow water in June last year, becoming stranded with 21 passengers and two crew members on board, according to Japanese media.

The boat was able to leave the shallows on its own and returned to the port, but police investigated its captain for endangering traffic by negligence in the conduct of business.

Japan's coastguard has been involved in a variety of search and rescue missions around the archipelago, including the successful discovery last November of a 69-year-old man who spent 22 hours drifting in open water off southwestern Kagoshima.

In September 2020, a cargo ship with 43 crew onboard sunk after being caught in a typhoon off Japan's southwest coast.

Two survivors were rescued, while a third crew member was found unresponsive and declared dead. The search operation was called off a week later. - AFP

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Japan , Ship , Tourists , Missing , Nine Found


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