Japanese operator sued over deadly tour boat sinking

Kazu I Shiretoko Pleasure Cruiser
The ill-fated tour boat Kazu I, which sank off Japan's main island of Hokkaido on April 23, 2022. Fourteen of the 26 people who were on board the vessel that day are confirmed to have died.Shiretoko Pleasure Cruiser

The Japan Times reports that a lawsuit has been filed against a Japanese vessel operator in connection with the sinking of a tour boat off the coast of Hokkaido in 2022. Lawyers representing the families of 14 deceased victims of the loss of the tour boat Kazu I filed the civil suit with the Sapporo District Court on Wednesday, July 3.

The suit against Shiretoko Pleasure Cruiser and its president, Seiichi Katsurada, was filed with the aim of seeking damages and compensation totalling approximately JPY1.5 billion (US$9.3 million) following the loss of Kazu I on April 23, 2022. On the said date, the vessel was operating off Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula with 26 people on board when its crew sent out a distress call reporting water ingress due to rough sea conditions.

Another radio message sent by the crew around two hours later stated that the vessel had listed by over 30 degrees. All contact with the vessel was lost shortly afterwards.

The subsequent search and rescue operation led to the recovery of 14 bodies, all confirmed to be those of passengers on Kazu I. One deceased individual was reportedly found by the crew of a Russian patrol boat just off Russian-held Kunashiri Island east of Shiretoko. The vessel itself was found six days after it sank, its wreckage being located at a depth of 120 metres.

A report released by the Japan Transport Safety Board in September last year attributed the sinking to a faulty bow deck hatch. The report also stated the vessel's hull and its communications equipment were not adequately maintained and that a safety management system "did not exist" as far as operator Shiretoko Pleasure Cruiser was concerned.

The Japan Coast Guard has also begun its investigation of Katsurada, who had been appointed as Shiretoko Pleasure Cruiser's chief safety manager prior to the incident despite his lacking the necessary qualifications. Coast guard officials said Katsurada could face multiple charges of professional negligence resulting in death.

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