THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
April 26, 2022 at 14:09 JST
Japan moved to avoid any misunderstanding by notifying Russia that efforts to locate more than a dozen people missing in a tour boat tragedy off Hokkaido could result in searchers encroaching in waters around islands controlled by Moscow but claimed by Tokyo.
The Japan Coast Guard said sea currents could cause the missing people to drift toward the disputed Northern Territories off eastern Hokkaido. Russia accepted the explanation.
The bodies of 11 of the 26 passengers and crew who were aboard the Kazu I had been recovered by late April 24, the day after the boat sent an SOS that it was taking on water in rough seas during a tour off the scenic Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido.
Of the 11 bodies, 10 were recovered in areas near Cape Shiretoko on the morning of April 24.
The remaining body, that of a child, was found in frigid waters about 14.5 kilometers to the east of Cape Shiretoko, a location closer to Kunashiri Island, one of four disputed islands, than Japan.
The islands were seized by Soviet forces in the waning days of World War II.
Japan and Russia have an agreement that requires both countries to provide as much assistance as necessary during rescue operations at sea.
The Coast Guard notified Russian authorities that it may search waters beyond the median line between Hokkaido and the Northern Territories. It also asked Russia to share any information on the missing people.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told an April 26 news conference that Russian officials had promised to provide any relevant information to Japan.
He added that growing tension between Japan and Russia due to the war in Ukraine should not stand in the way of such humanitarian efforts.
“We do not believe that Japan’s relations with Russia will cause any impediment to our search and rescue operations at the moment,” Matsuno said.
Japanese fishing boats operating in waters close to the median line have been seized by Russian patrols in the past.
Tokyo’s request for Moscow’s cooperation comes at a delicate time, however. Bilateral relations soured rapidly due to Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine. Japan has imposed sanctions against Russia, triggering a harsh reaction from Moscow.
The Coast Guard said it intends to continue liaising with the Russian side as it regards the rescue operation and bilateral ties as “separate matters.”
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