Boat goes missing off northern Japan with 26 people on board

No survivors spotted following reports 'Kazu-1' was starting to sink off Shiretoko Peninsula

The Shiretoko Peninsula of Japan's Hokkaido island where a tour boat went missing with 24 passengers and two crew on board on April 23. Kyodo via Reuters

A tour boat with 26 people aboard was reported missing in rough waters off northern Japan on Saturday after a distress call was issued saying it was starting to sink.

No survivors were found after more than seven hours of an intense search involving six patrol boats and four aircraft, Japan's coast guard said.

The 19-tonne Kazu 1 was travelling off the western coast of Shiretoko Peninsula in the northern island of Hokkaido with 24 passengers and two crew when an emergency call was made in the early afternoon saying the ship’s bow had flooded and was beginning to sink and tilt, the coast guard said.

It said contact with the boat was lost after the call.

The passengers included two children.

The office of Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise, the company that operates the  Japanese tour boat which went missing, in Shari, Hokkaido. Kyodo News via AP

A local fisheries co-operative said there were high waves and strong winds in the area around noon.

Public broadcaster NHK said there was a warning for high waves of up to three metres high.

Japanese media reports said fishing boats had returned to port before noon because of the bad weather.

The boat was on tour that takes about three hours and offers a scenic view of the western coast of the peninsula, including the nature and animals such as whales, dolphins and the brown bear, according to the website of its operator, Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise.

The peninsula in the north-east of Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's four main islands, is known as a popular destination for spotting drift ice and was designated as a World Natural Heritage site in 2005. It is a habitat for many rare species of animals and plants.

The coast guard said the boat was cruising past the Kashuni Falls, a famous site near the tip of the peninsula, when it sent the distress call.

The boat can accommodate as many as 65 people, according to the tour operator's website.

With reporting from agencies

Updated: April 23, 2022, 1:09 PM