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Japan finds four from missing boat, condition unclear

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Sightseeing tours in the region are popular. AFP

Japan finds four from missing boat, condition unclear

Japanese rescuers said Sunday they had found four people from a sightseeing boat that went missing a day earlier with 26 on board after warning it was sinking in frigid northern waters.

They were found shortly after 5am (2000 GMT) off the Shiretoko Peninsula in northern Hokkaido prefecture, a coastguard spokesman told AFP, but no immediate information was available on their condition.

"They are being transported to seek medical attention," the spokesman said. "Other details are not yet clear."

The "Kazu 1" was sailing in the icy waters off the peninsula, a world heritage site recognised for its pristine nature, when it sent a distress signal at 1:13 pm (0413 GMT) on Saturday, saying its bow was flooded and that the vessel was sinking.

The coastguard sent seven vessels and five aircraft for the search and rescue mission Sunday, joined by police and military helicopters as well as other local fishing boats.

National broadcaster NHK showed footage of a helicopter landing in a field and at least one person being brought out on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance.

Three of those found were in waters near the northern tip of the peninsula, while the fourth was in a rocky area on the coast, NHK said.

The boat was carrying 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew, and encountered high waves and strong winds on Saturday, according to officials.

The daytime water temperature in the area was around two to three degrees Celsius, and some local fishing boats returned to port early because of poor weather, local reports said.

The Kazu 1 ran aground in shallow water in June last year, becoming stranded with 21 passengers and two crew members on board, according to Japanese media.

The boat was able to leave the shallows on its own and returned to the port, but police investigated its captain for endangering traffic by negligence in the conduct of business.

The Shiretoko Peninsula was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005. It is well known for its unique wildlife, including the endangered Steller sea lion, as well as migratory birds and brown bears.

Sightseeing boat trips in the area are popular for visitors hoping to spot whales, birds and other wildlife, as well as drift ice in the winter.

Japan's borders remain closed to tourists because of Covid-19 rules, so sightseeing in the country is effectively limited to residents and Japanese citizens.

Japan's coastguard has been involved in a variety of search and rescue missions around the archipelago, including the successful discovery last November of a 69-year-old man who spent 22 hours drifting in open water off southwestern Kagoshima.

In September 2020, a cargo ship with 43 crew onboard sunk after being caught in a typhoon off Japan's southwest coast.

Two survivors were rescued, while a third crew member was found unresponsive and declared dead. The search operation was called off a week later.

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