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Hokkaido sunken tour boat operator's unpreparedness for meetings fuels families' distrust

Tour boat operator Shiretoko Yuransen President Seiichi Katsurada is seen after a briefing session for the families of the missing people, in Shari, Hokkaido, on May 7, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

SAPPORO -- Officials of Shiretoko Yuransen, the operator of the tour boat that sank off Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula a month ago, have stopped attending daily briefings held by the authorities as families of victims and missing people don't trust the operator due to its lack of preparations and unprofessional handling of the accident.

    The tour boat Kazu I, which had 26 passengers and crew aboard, sank off the Shiretoko Peninsula on April 23. Fourteen people have since been confirmed dead, while the remaining 12 are still missing. The family members of those unaccounted for continue to visit the Hokkaido town of Shari, where the operator is based, to get information on their loved ones, even though some have to travel from afar.

    The authorities, including officials from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism as well as the Japan Coast Guard, hold daily briefings on the state of search operations for the families of the missing. As the search drags on, many of the families now join the briefing sessions online because they can't stay in Shari for long due to work and other commitments.

    And yet, Shiretoko Yuransen President Seiichi Katsurada and others related to the company are not attending these briefing sessions. This is due to the sense of distrust among the family members toward the operator.

    Katsurada first appeared before the families of the tour boat passengers during the early hours of April 24. He showed up at Shari Town Hall's Utoro branch office where the task force had been set up and kneeled down on the ground before a few family members to apologize with tears in his eyes. He then joined a briefing session held by the town and other authorities on that same day, but came unprepared, with no documents to present.

    The president apparently started using his cell phone during the meeting, and a source told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I was wondering what he was doing, and then he showed us how the ship was before the accident on (his phone) screen. He showed up without any documents. I thought he was mocking us." Unable to stand his unprofessional attitude, a transport ministry official in charge of the local task force reportedly urged Katsurada to come prepared to the next briefing with documents.

    Even after this, Katsurada made little sense in front of the families. He couldn't provide answers to their questions regarding the details of how the accident occurred. When the families asked him to provide a document related to the company's safety management codes to find out whether the tour boat had been operated safely, he had to search for them in the company office. These incidents have fueled the families' sense of distrust, with one relative saying, "This is ridiculous."

    At present, no Shiretoko Yuransen officials attend daily briefing sessions. They stopped showing up after the families became fed up with the operator repeatedly responding to questions with, "We have no idea." The families eventually told the company officials they were "no longer needed." The company has apparently made little progress regarding compensation over the accident. One family member said, "Mr. Katsurada doesn't even show any signs that he feels pressed (to respond). It almost makes me feel like I'm the one who's done something wrong to him."

    (Japanese original by Yutaka Yamada, Hokkaido News Department)

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