Nine of the 26 people who were on board a missing tour boat in Japan have been found – but the country’s coastguard could not confirm if any of them were alive.
Rescuers found four people near the tip of Shiretoko Peninsula, in the northern island of Hokkaido, earlier on Sunday and then five more people in the same area a few hours later.
NHK public television said they were unconscious and average sea temperatures in Shiretoko National Park at this time of year are just above freezing.
The location is known as a difficult place to manoeuvre boats because of its rocky coastline and the same tour boat had an accident there last year.
An orange-coloured, square-shaped lifesaving float with the boat’s name on it was also seen on the rocky coast.
The boat carrying 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew members had gone missing after sending a distress call on Saturday, saying it took on water and was beginning to sink.
The crew said those on board were wearing life jackets and the boat was keeling at a 30-degree angle.
Sunday’s rescue came after nearly 19 hours of intense search involving six patrol boats, several aircraft and divers. The coastguard said the search continued through the night.
High waves and strong winds were seen in the area around 12pm on Saturday, a local fisheries cooperative said.
Local media said fishing boats had returned to port before noon because of the bad weather.
NHK said there was a warning for waves up to three metres (nearly 10ft) high.
Yoshihiko Yamada, a marine science professor at Tokai University, said the boat was likely to have run aground after it was thrown around by the high waves, then damaged and flooded, before probably sinking.
The academic also said there was a small chance the boat might have been hit by a whale.
The operator’s website said the tour takes about three hours and offers a scenic view of the western coast of the peninsula, including animals such as whales, dolphins and brown bears.
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