Rescue helicopters find four of the 26 people from a tour boat that went missing off the Shiretoko Peninsula.
The Japanese Coast Guard says it has found four people from a tour boat that went missing with 26 on board in the frigid waters of northern Japan. But it was not clear if the four were still alive.
Three were discovered by a police helicopter near the tip of the Shiretoko peninsula, early on Sunday morning, the coast guard said, with the fourth spotted by a coast guard aircraft in the same area about 30 minutes later.
The condition of the four people was unknown, and it was not clear whether they were on land or still at sea when found.
“They are being transported to seek medical attention,” a spokesman for the coastguard told the AFP news agency. “Other details are not yet clear.”
The NHK public television said the four people were unconscious.
Footage on NHK showed one of the rescued people arriving on a helicopter and being transferred to an ambulance on a stretcher, while rescuers held up blue plastic shields for privacy.
Sunday’s rescue came after nearly 19 hours of intense search involving six patrol boats, several aircraft and divers. The coast guard said the search continued through the night.
The Kazu 1 made an emergency call in the early afternoon on Saturday, saying the ship’s bow had flooded and it was beginning to sink and tilt while traveling off the western coast of Shiretoko Peninsula near the northern island of Hokkaido, the coast guard said.
It was last heard from around two hours later, when it contacted its operating company to say it was keeling at a 30-degree angle, according to Kyodo news.
The crew said those on board were wearing life jackets, media said.
There were 24 passengers and two crew members on board. Two of the passengers were children.
Average April sea temperatures in Shiretoko National Park, which was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005, are just above freezing.
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.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was attending a two-day summit in Kumamoto in southern Japan, canceled his programme for the second day and returned to Tokyo. He told reporters in the early hours of Sunday that he instructed officials “to do everything they can for the rescue”.
The cause of the accident is still under investigation, but experts suspect the boat ran aground and was damaged.
High waves and strong winds were observed in the area around noon on Saturday, according to a local fisheries cooperative. Japanese media reports said fishing boats had returned to port before noon because of the bad weather.
NHK said there was a warning for high waves of up to 3 meters (9 feet).