SKIPPER ASLEEP AT THE HELM

Freighter slams into shorefront homes

Kyodo

A drowsy skipper early Saturday ran his freighter ashore in Osakikamijima, Hiroshima Prefecture, damaging homes and injuring one resident, local police and the Japan Coast Guard said.

The 498-ton Shin Tsunetoyo Maru plowed over a protective concrete wall about 1 meter high, crushed two houses and damaged another on the shores of Osakikami Island in the Seto Inland Sea at around 2:30 a.m.

Skipper Masuo Hamada, 56, was quoted as telling the coast guard he had dozed off at the helm while the vessel was on autopilot.

Haruo Abe, 76, who lived in one of the demolished houses, sustained slight injuries to his right shoulder. The other house that was flattened was vacant. A couple living in the house that was damaged was not injured.

The freighter, with six crew members aboard, belongs to a shipping company in Tsukumi, Oita Prefecture. It was on its way from Fukuyama, Hiroshima Prefecture, to Shunan, Yamaguchi Prefecture, carrying iron ore scrap.

Tugboats pulled the vessel away from shore shortly before noon Saturday. Coast guard officials were questioning Hamada and the rest of the crew on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in a transportation hazard.

According to local residents, the second story of Abe’s house was struck by the freighter, and the ground floor was leveled when the second floor collapsed.

Abe, himself a former sailor, said there was a huge crashing noise before the ceiling of the second floor suddenly caved in.

“There are no words to describe the fear I felt,” he said.

Abe said it took him a moment to calm down and crawl out from a space between the collapsed walls. When he was free of the debris, and peered out into the darkness, he saw the prow of the ship.

A roughly 20-meter stretch of the protective seawall was damaged in the accident, with some of the debris falling into the water. Prefectural officials said they were assessing the extent of the damage to the wall.