Researchers try to find the shipwreck of the Kanrin Maru off the coast of Kikonai town in Hokkaido. (Takuya Isayama)

KIKONAI, Hokkaido--A six-day underwater search failed to locate the Kanrin Maru, a 19th-century warship that made Japan’s first cross-Pacific voyage to the United States, but researchers have not given up hope.

The search for the wreckage started on Nov. 21 off the coast of Kikonai town in Hokkaido. It was part of a project that started last year by researchers from the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, a marine research company called Windy Network Corp., among others.

The divers came back empty-handed when they wrapped up the mission on Nov. 26.

The ship was built in the Netherlands in 1857 and purchased by the Tokugawa Shogunate. In 1860, the Kanrin Maru crossed the Pacific Ocean to send Japanese delegates, such as Katsu Kaishu and Fukuzawa Yukichi, to the United States.

In 1871, three years after the Meiji Restoration, the ship carried settlers to Hokkaido. But on its trip from Hakodate to Otaru in Hokkaido, the ship hit a shoal and sank off Cape Saraki in Kikonai.

About 10 years ago, local divers saw something that looked like a wooden hull on the sea bottom at a depth of 13 meters off the coast of Kikonai. But it could have since been buried in sand.

For the search of the area this month, the research group used sonar, a sub bottom profiler that studies the structure under the sea floor, and other devices to narrow down the search area.

They did not find the shipwreck. But they said they have accumulated data that could help them pinpoint the location of the Kanrin Maru.

Leon Derksen, 32, a maritime specialist of the Cultural Heritage Agency who joined the search mission, said the project serves two purposes.

One is “searching for the wreck of the Kanrin Maru” and the second is “collecting stories about the humans who are still connected to this history.”