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Operator of sunken Hokkaido tour boat used cost-cutting ham radio: sources

The tour boat Kazu I is seen in this image taken from the website of operator Shiretoko Yuransen.

The operator of the Kazu I tour boat that sank off Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula had used ham radio on a regular basis as a communications method, prior to the fatal incident, the Mainichi Shimbun learned from affiliated parties on May 9.

    Japan's Radio Act prohibits the usage of amateur radios except in emergency situations. The carelessness and negligence in the management of tour boat operations by Shiretoko Yuransen, based in Shari, Hokkaido, has been brought to the fore.

    It has been revealed that cellphones and satellite phones were listed as emergency contact methods on a chart regarding communication among the Kazu I tour boat, Shiretoko Yuransen's office, affiliated bodies and other parties. However, on the day of the accident on April 23, the boat used an amateur radio to contact other ships and offices of other boat tour operators in at least three instances. It is thought that the Kazu I boat's satellite phone was broken, and that the cellphone of Noriyuki Toyoda, captain of the boat, could not receive a signal as he was in a cellular dead zone. As a result, another individual's cellphone was used to seek help.

    Using amateur radios in operations for the purpose of financial gain is prohibited under the Radio Act. Parties who violate this are subjected to imprisonment of one year or under, or a fine of 1 million yen (about $7,700) or under. However, according to multiple sources, amateur radios had been used as the main means of communication among the operator's boats as well as between boats and the office, even prior to this season. As calling rates for satellite phones are high, and individuals are responsible for covering cellphone fees, there is the possibility that amateur radios were used to cut back on expenses.

    An affiliated individual who has been aboard the Kazu I said, "I've seen the satellite phone equipped on the boat, but have never used it. I've never tested it either." Another affiliated party said that they were aware of the illegality of using amateur radios during operations, and that it was "normal to use satellite phones as the main communication tool, and use the amateur radio in the event of an emergency where the former cannot be used." However, they admitted that they actually continued to use an amateur radio on a daily basis.

    Shiretoko Yuransen President Seiichi Katsurada explained at an April 27 press conference that the antenna of the radio at the office was broken and not capable of contacting the boat. After it departed the port at 10 a.m. on April 23, the Kazu I tour boat used an amateur radio at least three times before it sank: at around 11 a.m. to contact the tour boat Kazu III, and twice between 1:13 p.m. and 1:18 p.m. in communications with offices of other boat tour operators.

    (Japanese original by Sachi Fukushima, Digital News Center, and Ryo Endo, Tokyo City News Department)

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