EDITORIAL: Oversight of tour boat industry a vital part of accident probe

A panel of experts set up by the transport ministry to come up with steps to secure the safety of the tour boat industry in response to a tragedy off the Shiretoko Peninsula in eastern Hokkaido last month will need to scrutinize and evaluate the government’s regulatory safety procedures.

It must glean vital lessons from the accident to prevent a recurrence of the April 23 sinking that is presumed to have claimed 26 lives.

The boat operator was involved in two safety breaches last year, which prompted the ministry’s Hokkaido Regional Transport Bureau to conduct a special inspection and on-the-spot checks of the company’s compliance with safety regulations.

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

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

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

We cannot help wonder how the bureau reached this conclusion.

The regulator’s oversight lapses are not limited to last year.

Three days before the latest incident, the Japan Craft Inspection Organization, which is supervised by the transport ministry, conducted its own inspection of the company’s operations.

On that occasion, the still missing skipper of the sunken tour boat applied for permission to switch to an ordinary mobile phone from a satellite phone for communications between the…

Read more at www.asahi.com

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