Japan will require life rafts with slides on small passenger boats operating in cold waters

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A life raft, center, is seen in the water at Utoro fishing port in Shari, Hokkaido on May 9, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

TOKYO — Following a tourist boat accident off Hokkaido’s Shiretoko peninsula that left 14 dead and 12 missing, the Ministry of Transportation has decided to require small passenger boats operating in cold waters are equipped with life rafts with slides, it has been learned.

The plan was presented on May 27 at the third meeting of the Department for Transport’s Accident Response Review Committee and was widely endorsed by its expert members. Since there are currently no life rafts equipped with a slide of a size that can be mounted on small passenger boats in Japan, the ministry plans to jointly develop the devices with domestic manufacturers.

Under the Ship Safety Law, small passenger boats, such as the excursion boat Kazu I which sank off the Shiretoko Peninsula in late April, must be equipped with floats or life rafts, as well only enough life jackets for their total passenger and crew capacity. Due to cost, it is believed that most operators use rescue floats, a plate-like float that passengers in the water can hold on to.

The Kazu I had a life float and the passengers wore life jackets. However, the sea in the accident area is 2-3 degrees Celsius even at the end of April, which meant that passengers risked fatal exposure after a short time in the water with just their life jackets and the float.

At the expert group meeting, some members requested that small passenger vessels fit life rafts that passengers could use without getting wet. The Department for Transport plans to make life rafts mandatory on small passenger boats as part of their lifesaving equipment when operating in waters below a certain temperature.

(Japanese original by Shotaro Kinoshita and Ryo Endo, Tokyo City News Department)

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