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A tour boat with 26 people on board went missing in choppy, cold waters off northern Japan on Saturday after its crew made a distress call and reported it was sinking, the coast guard said.
No survivors were found after more than 10 hours of an intense search involving six patrol boats, five aircraft and divers. The Coast Guard said it would continue the search overnight.
The 19-tonne Kazu 1 made an emergency call in the early afternoon, saying the ship’s bow had been flooded and was beginning to sink and heel over as it moved off the coast west of the Shiretoko Peninsula on the northern island of Hokkaido, the coast guard said.
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The tour boat has since lost contact, according to the Coast Guard, which said the boat was carrying 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew members.
Average April sea temperatures in Shiretoko National Park are just above freezing.
An official with the ship’s operator, Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise, said he could not comment because he had to take calls from worried families of passengers.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was attending a two-day water summit in Kumamoto, southern Japan, was canceling his schedule for Sunday and had to return to Tokyo to deal with the missing boat, the public broadcaster reported. NHK.
High waves and strong winds were seen in the area around midday, according to a local fishing cooperative. Japanese media reported that the fishing boats had returned to port before noon due to bad weather.
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NHK said there was a warning for high waves of up to 3 meters (9 feet).
Yoshihiko Yamada, a professor of marine science at Tokai University, said the boat likely ran aground after being buffeted by high waves and damaged, flooded and likely sunk. A tour boat of this size does not usually carry a lifeboat, and passengers might not be able to jump from a fast sinking ship with its windows likely closed to protect them from high winds.
In an interview with TBS television, Yamada said there was also a slight possibility that the boat had been hit by a whale.
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The cold temperature and strong wind could cause hypothermia and put passengers in serious life-threatening conditions, according to Jun Abe, vice president of the Society of Water Rescue and Survival Research.
“It’s a very serious condition, especially when they’re wet,” Abe told TBS.
According to the operator’s website, the tour lasts around three hours and offers panoramic views of the western coast of the peninsula, including nature and animals such as whales, dolphins and brown bears.
The national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is famous as the southernmost area to see drifting sea ice.
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