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Japan to require life rafts with slides on small passenger boats sailing in cold waters

A life raft, center, is seen in the water at Utoro fishing port in Shari, Hokkaido, on May 9, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

TOKYO -- In the wake of a tourist boat accident off Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula that left 14 people dead and 12 others missing, the transport ministry has decided to require small passenger boats operating in cold waters to be equipped with life rafts with slides, it has been learned.

    The plan was presented on May 27 at the third meeting of the transport ministry's accident response examination committee, and was broadly approved by its expert membership. As there are currently no slide-equipped life rafts of a size that can be mounted on small passenger boats in Japan, the ministry plans to jointly develop the devices with domestic manufacturers.

    Under the Ship Safety Act, small passenger boats, like the Kazu I tour boat that sank off the Shiretoko Peninsula in late April, are required to be equipped with life floats or life rafts, plus enough lifejackets for their total passenger and crew capacity. Due to costs, it is believed that most operators use life floats, a plate-like float that passengers in the water can hold onto.

    The Kazu I had a life float, and the passengers were said to be wearing lifejackets. However, the sea in the accident area is 2 to 3 degrees Celsius even in late April, meaning the passengers were at risk of fatal exposure after a short time in the water with just their lifejackets and the float.

    During the expert panel meeting, some members called for requiring small passenger boats to install life rafts that passengers could use without getting wet. The transport ministry plans to make life rafts obligatory on small passenger boats as part of their lifesaving equipment when sailing in waters below a certain temperature.

    (Japanese original by Shotaro Kinoshita and Ryo Endo, Tokyo City News Department)

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