SAPPORO (Kyodo) -- A sunken sightseeing boat was pulled up to near the surface of the sea off Hokkaido on Monday, one month after it went down off eastern Hokkaido in rough weather, leaving 14 people dead and 12 others missing.
A barge operated by Nippon Salvage Co. raised the 19-ton Kazu I from the depths of about 120 meters using wire, after, according to the coast guard, three divers went to the sea bottom inside a capsule and worked with the wire in an operation known as deepwater diving.
Later the boat, which went missing off the Shiretoko Peninsula on April 23 with 24 tourists and two crew members aboard, began being towed toward shallow waters off Shari, according to the coast guard. It is expected to be lifted onto the barge as early as Tuesday.
The boat will then be transported to a nearby port in the hope authorities can ascertain the cause of the accident. It could have sustained some damage as a distress call was made from the boat before its sinking saying its bow was taking on water.
The coast guard is continuing its search for the missing using patrol vessels and other means. Deepwater divers ended their two-day search inside the sightseeing boat last week, finding no trace of the missing.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government is exchanging information with Russian authorities after two bodies, possibly those of the missing, were found washed up on Kunashiri, one of the Russian-controlled islands off the peninsula that are at the heart of a territorial dispute with Japan.
A Japanese driver's license was found close to one of the bodies, leading authorities to believe it could be that of a 27-year-old deckhand, the coast guard said. The body of a woman was discovered on May 6.
The salvage operation was commissioned by the coast guard for around 140 million yen ($1 million).