The Japan Coast Guard on Sunday said rescue helicopters had recovered seven of the 26 people from a tourist boat that went missing in the frigid waters north of Japan since a day. previously, but their status is currently unknown.
Rescuers had found four people near the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula the previous Sunday and three more in the same area a few hours later, but the coast guard said it could not confirm whether they were found. save lives or not. Public broadcaster NHK said it was unconscious.
The coast guard said all seven people were found in the same area near the tip of the northern peninsula where the boat sent a distress call on Saturday. This location is known to be difficult to maneuver because of its rocky coastline. The same tour boat crashed there last year.
Footage on NHK showed one of the rescued people arriving in a helicopter and being transported to an ambulance on a stretcher, while rescuers held up a blue plastic shield to protect privacy.
The boat, carrying 24 passengers, including two children and two crew members, went missing after sending a distress call, saying it was on the water and was beginning to sink.
Sunday’s rescue came after nearly 19 hours of intense searching involving six patrol boats, several planes and divers. The Coast Guard said the search continued into the night.
The 19-ton Kazu 1 made an emergency call in the early afternoon on Saturday, saying the bow had flooded and it began to sink and tilt while sailing off the western coast of the Peninsula. Shiretoko on the island of Hokkaido, north of the coast guard. speak.
The cruise ship has lost contact since then, according to the coast guard. Nineteen people are still missing.
The average April sea temperature in Shiretoko National Park is just above freezing.
An official with the ship’s operator, Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise, said he could not comment because he had to answer calls from worried passengers’ families.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was attending a two-day summit in Kumamoto, southern Japan, canceled his program for a second day and returned to Tokyo. He told reporters in the early hours of Sunday that he had instructed officials “to do everything they can to rescue.”
The cause of the accident is still under investigation, but experts suspect the boat ran aground and was damaged in rough seas in an area known for its strong currents and rocky coastline.
High waves and strong winds were observed in the area around midday, according to a local fisheries cooperative. Japanese media reported that the fishing boats had returned to port before noon because of bad weather.
NHK said there was a warning for waves up to 3 meters (9 feet) high.
A tour boat from another operator told NHK that he warned of rough seas when he spotted Kazu 1’s crew and told them not to go. He said the very same boat ran aground last year and suffered a crack in its bow.
The Coast Guard confirmed that the same boat ran aground in the area last June, although no one was injured in that accident.
Yoshihiko Yamada, a professor of marine science at Tokai University, said the boat likely ran aground after being washed ashore by waves and was damaged, flooded and possibly sunk. Cruise boats of this size typically do not carry lifeboats, and passengers may not be able to exit a rapidly sinking ship with its windows likely to close to shield them from strong winds.
In an interview with TBS TV station, Yamada said there was also the possibility that the boat was hit by a whale.
According to Jun Abe, vice-president of the Underwater Rescue and Survival Research Association, cold temperatures and strong winds can cause hypothermia and put passengers in a difficult situation to survive. “It’s a very serious condition, especially when they get wet,” Abe told TBS.
According to the operator’s website, the tour lasts about three hours and offers stunning views of the peninsula’s west coast and includes potential sightings of animals such as whales, fish, and whales. pig and brown bear. The national park is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is famous as the southernmost area to see icebergs in the sea.