That appears to be what happened off the coast of Hokkaido in northern Japan on Saturday afternoon.
The Shiretoko peninsula is a breathtaking location. It juts out into the northern Pacific, surrounded by densely forested mountains and waterfalls cascading down high cliffs into the sea.
The peninsula’s northern half is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also has the largest population of Ussuri brown bears in Japan.
Tourists came to observe the bears in addition to the amazing natural scenery. Some organizations claim to have a 90-95% success rate in obtaining bear sightings for their clientele.
The Kazu 1 tour boat left the small fishing port of Utoro around 10 a.m. on Saturday.
The boat has a capacity of 65 passengers, but just 24 tourists were on board. They had traveled from all around Japan to attend. Tow tiny toddlers, one of whom was just three years old, were present.
The weather was unfavorable. Strong gusts and three-meter seas accompanied the storm. This should have been sufficient to make the boat turn around.
Another tour boat captain claims he advised the captain of the Kazu 1 that it was too risky to venture out. He claims, however, that he was disregarded.
The captain of the Kazu 1 had been trained to run lake boats but was hired by the Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise firm to replace more experienced skippers who had been “Let go” by the owner, according to Japanese media.
After two earlier safety issues in 2021, including a grounding, the corporation was already under investigation.
The coast guard received a distressed call shortly after 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Kazu 1 was drifting near the Kashuni Falls with a disabled engine. This area of the peninsula is exceptionally harsh.
The water is still very chilly in April, only a few degrees above freezing.
You’d think that a passenger boat sailing in icy seas would be necessary to have life rafts on board.
However, this is not the case. Rafts are not required for in-shore passenger vessels.
Passengers on the Kazu 1 could only cling to life vests and floats. Experts estimate that an average human would only survive an hour if thrown into the frigid waters off northern Hokkaido in April.
But it would take an hour, if not two, for help to come. The first coastguard helicopter would not arrive at Kashuni Falls for another three hours after the initial emergency call.
For rescue services, Hokkaido’s northeast shore is described as a “blind spot.”
The nearest helicopter base is 160 kilometers (100 miles). However, the closest coastguard chopper was out on another mission on Saturday. It needed to return to base, refuel, and then fly north to Shiretoko. There were barely 90 minutes of daylight remaining when it arrived.
There are still 15 passengers and crew members missing as of this writing. A thorough search is still underway. However, all chance of finding anyone alive has all but vanished.