Mourning city denounces Hokkaido tour operator’s handling of tragedy

SHARI, Hokkaido – Grieving relatives of those who lost their lives in a pleasure boat tragedy here have reacted angrily after the chairman of the operating company finally emerged on April 27 and lay down to four paws at a press conference to apologize.

The general sentiment among local residents was also that Seiichi Katsurada, the chairman of the Shiretoko Pleasure Boat Company, waited far too long to apologize, leading to questions about his sincerity. Many viewed Katsurada’s gesture of atonement, which he repeated twice, as a mere formula.

“I saw him for the first time on the TV news,” said the father of Yu Nudeshima, one of 11 people confirmed dead and who was from Chiba prefecture outside China. Tokyo.

Speaking to reporters on the night of April 27 after the press conference that day, the man said: “He was indeed slow to respond. He should have apologized immediately after the disaster if he really wanted to show that he was acting sincerely.

The pleasure boat was lost in rough seas on April 23 with 24 passengers and two crew members during an outing in the waters around the scenic Shiretoko Peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the east of Hokkaido.

At the start of the press conference, Katsurada apologized for the disaster by bowing on his hands and knees, a gesture seen in Japan as showing genuine remorse.

But Nudeshima’s father simply saw the action as “a pose taken by force of circumstance”.

A 73-year-old Shari resident who went to the makeshift morgue set up in a city gymnasium to lay flowers also expressed her disgust.

“His gesture just seemed cosmetic to me,” she said. “If he had put himself in the place of the relatives of the deceased, his words and his attitude would have been different.”

Yasuhiko Segawa, 64, who has worked in the recreational fishing boat business for more than 30 years in Shari’s Utoro port, lashed out at Katsurada for allowing the boat, Kazu I, to take the sea ​​when the weather conditions were expected to worsen with gusts. strong waves and winds.

“His approach to security management makes no sense,” he said.

Kazu I departed from Utoro Port around 10 a.m. on April 23 for a three-hour tour off the western part of the peninsula so tourists could see spectacular scenery as well as brown bears roaming the coast and white-tailed eagles flying overhead.

Segawa said boat captains are not supposed to set sail when the waves are expected to get high because they impede a boat’s progress.

“On the day of the accident, the conditions were not good and there were fears that the sea would be whipped by the wind in the afternoon,” he said. “The only sensible decision would have been not to allow the tour, nothing else. His decision was totally unacceptable.

Katsurada, 58, is relatively new to the boat business. After taking over his mother’s business to run a hotel and other facilities in Shari in 2014, he bought Shiretoko Pleasure Boat two years later, saying he did so at the request of the owner of the boat. business at the time.

At the press conference, Katsurada said Kazu I captain Noriyuki Toyoda, 54, used to drive an amphibious bus in Fukushima, Yamanashi and other prefectures after working for a wholesale operating company. trucks for many years.

After joining Shiretoko Pleasure Boat, Toyoda was promoted to skipper in a relatively short period of time, certainly much quicker than it normally takes a crew member.

“I heard it usually takes about three years to become a captain,” Katsurada said. “But an experienced captain told me that Toyoda could qualify for skipper status after just one year because he had common sense.”