Ten people were killed and 16 are missing when a tourist boat capsized in the choppy, icy waters off northern Japan on Saturday, the coast guard announced Sunday.
“We confirm the death of the total of the ten people found after the sinking of the Kazu I ship,” a coastguard spokesman told AFP, adding that the search for the missing continues.
The ten fatalities are seven men and three women.
Despite forecasted bad weather, the Kazu I put to sea on Saturday morning with 26 people on board to skirt a flank of the Shiretoko Peninsula, a World Heritage Site for its pristine nature, located northeast of the great northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.
“It was obvious that the state of the sea was going to get worse and I told them not to go out,” the operator of another tourist boat tells the NHK television network. “In spite of everything, they left.”
The ship “Kazu 1” sent out a distress call at 1:15 p.m. local time (0415 GMT) on Saturday and warned that it was sinking, with one part listing at 30 degrees.
The Coast Guard only reached the scene after three hours, and are now heavily involved in the search alongside police and military helicopters and local fishing boats.
National NHK television showed footage of a helicopter and patrol boats scanning the edge of the peninsula, as well as lifeguards on land scanning a very rugged coastline, with high waves crashing against rocks.
The ship was carrying 24 passengers, including two children, as well as two crew members.
Everyone was wearing life jackets, but the water temperature during the day was two to three degrees Celsius, and in fact some fishing boats returned to port early due to bad weather, according to local reports.
“The waves were expected to be higher and higher. I would not have gone to sea in those conditions,” a person from the same local tourism sector had assured the Kyodo agency on Saturday.
The Kazu I had already had a breakdown during an excursion last June when it hit the seabed near its home port, according to Japanese media.
The incident did not cause any injuries, but an investigation was opened by the police into the ship’s captain for negligence.
UNESCO declared the Shiretoko Peninsula a World Heritage Site in 2005 for its distinctive wildlife, including the endangered Stellar Sea Lion, as well as migratory birds and grizzly bears.
Tour boats are popular in the area with visitors who come to see whales, birds, and other wildlife.