Japan finds four on missing boat, status unclear


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Tokyo (AFP) – Japanese rescuers said on Sunday they had found four people aboard a tourist boat which disappeared a day earlier with 26 on board after warning it was sinking in freezing northern waters.

They were found shortly after 5 a.m. (2000 GMT) off the Shiretoko peninsula in northern Hokkaido prefecture, a coast guard spokesman told AFP, but no information. immediate was available on their condition.

“They are being transported to see a doctor,” the spokesperson said. “Other details are not yet clear.”

The ‘Kazu 1’ was sailing in the icy waters off the peninsula, a World Heritage site known for its pristine nature, when it sent out a distress signal at 1.13pm (0413 GMT) on Saturday, indicating its bow was flooded and the ship was sinking.

The coastguard sent seven ships and five planes for the search and rescue mission on Sunday, joined by police and army helicopters and other local fishing boats.

National broadcaster NHK showed footage of a helicopter landing in a field and at least one person being brought on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance.

Three of those found were in waters near the northern tip of the peninsula, while the fourth was in a rocky area on the coast, NHK said.

The boat was carrying 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew members, and encountered high waves and strong winds on Saturday, officials said.

The daytime water temperature in the area was around two to three degrees Celsius, and some local fishing boats returned to port early due to bad weather, according to local reports.

The Kazu 1 ran aground in shallow water in June last year, becoming stranded with 21 passengers and two crew on board, according to Japanese media.

The boat was able to leave the shallows under its own power and return to port, but police investigated its captain for negligent conduct of business endangering traffic.

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 drifting ice in the winter.

Japan’s borders remain closed to tourists due to Covid-19 rules, so tourist visits to the country are effectively limited to Japanese residents and citizens.

The Japanese Coast Guard has been involved in various search and rescue missions around the archipelago, including the successful discovery last November of a 69-year-old man who spent 22 hours adrift in open water southwest of Kagoshima.

In September 2020, a freighter with 43 crew on board sank after being caught in a typhoon off the southwest coast of Japan.

Two survivors were rescued, while a third crew member was found unconscious and pronounced dead. The search operation was called off a week later.

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