EDITORIAL: Monitoring the tour boat industry is a vital part of accident investigation

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A panel set up by the Department of Transportation to propose measures to keep the tour boat industry safe in response to a tragedy off the Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido on last month will have to review and assess the government’s regulatory security procedures.

He must draw essential lessons from the accident to prevent the sinking of April 23 which would have killed 26 people from happening again.

The boat operator was implicated in two safety violations last year, prompting the ministry’s Hokkaido Regional Transportation Bureau to carry out a special inspection and on-site checks of the company’s compliance with security rules.

The boat’s logbook that was handed over for the special inspection was leaked to the opposition Democratic Constitutional Party of Japan on May 13. It contains disturbing facts.

For all 31 outings made over 15 days last July, the log shows exactly the same figures for wind speed, wave height and visibility. The ledgers bear the private seals of approval of the company’s president and the boat’s skipper.

This suggests that the operator showed complete disregard for following regulations to ensure passenger safety. Surprisingly, however, the bureau’s report on the inspection compiled in October said the newspaper was “properly managed”. It also “confirmed” that the company’s “security awareness and commitment to compliance had been improved.”

One can’t help but wonder how the office came to this conclusion.

Regulator oversight failures are not limited to the past year.

Three days before the latest incident, the Japan Crafts Inspection Organization, which is overseen by the Ministry of Transport, conducted its own inspection of the company’s operations.

On this occasion, the still missing captain of the sunken tour boat requested permission to switch from a satellite phone to a regular cell phone for communications between the ship and the company office.

Permission was granted on the condition that the captain only operate within the wireless service area. But after the accident, it appeared that the boat was out of range most of the time.

It is hardly surprising that the bereaved families of the victims harbor serious doubts about the advice and oversight of the regulator.

Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito only said he would “take it sincerely” that the crash happened despite the ministry’s special inspection.

Another special company inspection is underway in response to the accident. When key parts of the process are completed, Saito is expected to hold a press conference and offer “sincere” answers to questions on the minds of families and the public.

The accident has important parallels to a fatal ski bus accident in Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, in January 2016. Both incidents involved sloppy operational safety procedures that were overlooked by regulators.

In response to the ski bus disaster, the government revised the law to strengthen its regulation and oversight of charter bus operators. Each operator’s accident and administrative penalty records are now available for public review. No fatal bus accidents have occurred since then.

The panel of experts discussing tour boat safety is expected to draw lessons and crashes as it writes an interim report in July and publishes a final report by the end of the year.

In addition to examining the reality of the tourist boat industry to identify possible safety issues, the experts also have the responsibility to scrutinize the approach and system in which the industry is regulated in order to propose measures. effective security.

–The Asahi Shimbun, May 14

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