This was a day after a 26-person tour boat apparently went down in rough waters. It triggered questions about why it was allowed sail.
After the boat made a distress call Saturday afternoon, indicating that it was sinking, the search continues for the other boats. Because of the strong tide and its rocky coastline, this location is difficult to maneuver boats in.
Two crew members and 24 passengers were aboard the 19-ton Kazu 1, which was traveling off the Shiretoko Peninsula's western coast when it encountered difficulties. According to the coast guard, seven of the victims were men while three of them were women.
Transport Ministry opened an investigation into the operator of the boat, who was involved in two accidents last year. According to the ministry, it is investigating safety standards and the decision not to hold the tour in bad weather on Saturday.
Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise had been given instructions to improve safety after two previous accidents. In June, the operator ran aground without inflicting any injuries. Another accident occurred in May when three passengers sustained minor injuries when their boat collided.
"We will investigate the cause of this situation and what safety oversight was involved in order to prevent another incident," Tetsuo Saido, Transport Minister, said to reporters.
After a long night of intensive searching that involved six patrol boats, divers, and several aircraft, rescuers found four people at the Shiretoko Peninsula's tip. Six more were later located in the same area, approximately 14 km (8.7 miles) from the point where the distress call was received. Some were pulled from the sea while others were washed onto rocky coastline.
The coast guard reported that a lifesaving float in orange color and square-shaped with the name of the boat was also found nearby the rocks.
NHK, a public broadcaster, captured one of the victims being taken to an ambulance by helicopter. To protect the victim's privacy, rescuers used blue plastic shields.
The coast guard reported that the sightseeing vessel called in an emergency early Saturday afternoon. It stated that its bow was submerged and that it was sinking and tilting. Since then, contact with the boat was lost. According to the coast guard, the operator informed them that everyone aboard the boat was wearing life vests. However, some victims were found without them.
Experts say that the average April sea temperature in Shiretoko National Park is just above freezing. This would lead to hypothermia.
Jun Abe, vice-chairman of the Society of Water Rescue and Survival Research told TBS TV that it is a severe condition, especially when they are wet.
Yoshihiko Yamada from Tokai University, a professor of marine science, stated that the boat was most likely to have ran aground due to its being tossed in high waves and other damage. He said that a boat this large usually doesn't carry a lifeboat.
Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan, canceled his participation at the Kumamoto summit that was taking place in Kumamoto, southern Japan. He returned to Tokyo. Early Sunday, he told reporters that he had instructed officials to do all they could for the rescue.
Although the cause of the accident remains under investigation, experts and officials suspect that it was caused by negligence in safety.
Strong winds and high waves were predicted when the boat set sail. Japanese media reported that fishing boats returned to port by Saturday afternoon due to the bad weather.
NHK was told by a tour boat crew from another operator that he had warned Kazu 1 of rough seas, and advised them not to go. The same boat also ran aground last summer and had a crack in its bow.
The Saturday tour was, according to reports, the first of this season by the operator. This accident happened just before Japan's Golden Week holiday, which begins in April. It could also dampen local tourism. Local tourism has been declining since the pandemic. Japan remains closed to foreign tourists.
Hokkaido Gov. Naomichi Suzuki stated to reporters Sunday that he would request safety checks from tour operators in the prefecture before the holidays.
The operator's website states that the tour lasts approximately three hours. It offers scenic views of the peninsula's western coast and the chance to spot whales, dolphins, and brown bears. This national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for being the most southern region where drifting sea ice can be seen.