Japan rocked by apparent negligence in deadly Hokkaido boat tragedy

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TOKYO – When the ill-fated tourist boat Kazu I sailed off Hokkaido with 26 people – 24 passengers and two crew – on board on April 23, it not only ignored warnings of gusts and rough waves, but it also lacked a working satellite phone.

To make matters worse, the radio antenna in the office of Shiretoko Yuransen, owner and operator of the 19-ton boat, was also broken.

It was another local tour operator who picked up the boat’s distress signal by radio and alerted the Coast Guard.

Japan has been shaken by the apparent gross negligence behind what appears to be a preventable deadly tragedy at sea.

The Kazu I was found lying on the seabed at a depth of 120 meters on Friday (April 29) near Kashuni Falls on the Shiretoko Peninsula, which was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

Like Saturday, a week after the tragedy, 14 bodies were recovered and 12 others are still missing. The youngest person on board was a three-year-old girl from Tokyo, Nanako Kato. All came from nine prefectures across Japan.

Other passengers included Mr Tomoya Suzuki, 22, from Hokkaido, who intended to propose to his girlfriend, referred to in the media by her nickname “Yucchi”, on the boat.

Their relatives applied for a posthumous marriage license on their behalf, although this is not legally recognized.

Also on board was Mr. Shunsuke Koike, 28, from Fukushima, who had succeeded his father as general manager of a family-owned supermarket chain in 2019.

Friends said the Keio University graduate, who was fluent in English and studied in Britain, was about to get married and dreamed of creating his own brand of whisky.

The chairman of Shiretoko Yuransen, the operator of the boat, Mr Seiichi Katsurada, 58, who is now the subject of a criminal investigation, admitted impassively during a press conference four days after the tragedy that it was a retrospective “error” to allow the ship to set sail.

As he knelt on the ground and bowed in a dogeza bow – a sign of a deep apology in Japan – it was lambasted as just for show after he called his apology appearing to blame the victims.

It was the passengers, he said, who had insisted on setting sail despite warnings, having made it all the way to the remote northeastern tip of Hokkaido.

“I made the decision (to let the boat sail), so that the passengers could better appreciate the rough seas and feel like turning back,” he said.

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