Reports of Japanese fatalities yet to be confirmed

by Kanako Takahara

Foreign Ministry and embassy officials were trying Monday to confirm reports that several Japanese may have been killed in the massive tsunamis that hit South and Southeast Asia the previous day.

The Sri Lankan Embassy in Tokyo reportedly told the Foreign Ministry that up to 15 bodies found among its 6,500-plus tsunami fatalities are apparently Japanese.

The ministry could not confirm the information but said it has dispatched officials to a hospital there to check whether Japanese are among the dead.

The Japan Association of Travel Agents, a group of 17 major agencies, said 22 Japanese tourists were unaccounted for as of Monday out of 1,315 who went on package tours to areas hit by the tsunamis. They included 12 listed as missing in Sri Lanka and 10 missing on or near the Thai resort island of Phuket.

A senior Foreign Ministry official who briefed reporters said eight of the 10 Japanese missing in Thailand may have been swept away when tsunamis hit Phuket and Krabi, a resort city northeast of Phuket. The eight include four adults and four children from five different families, the official said.

Among the missing are Sadayuki Yoshino, a first secretary at the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok, and his son. They were vacationing in Krabi with other members of their family, the official said.

In Sri Lanka, 22 bodies have been transferred from Hambantota in the southern part of the island to Colombo’s police hospital. Japanese Embassy staff are currently trying to determine if the missing 12 are among them.

A hotel in Hambantota reportedly collapsed after it was hit by a massive tsunami. Several Japanese were believed to have been staying there.

Kyodo News quoted a senior official of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board as saying 15 people, most of them believed to be Japanese, were killed in Yala National Park in the south.

The ministry has not been able to confirm whether the roughly 930 Japanese who live on Phuket, in the Maldives and on Malaysia’s Penang Island are safe due to local communications problems, the official said.

The ministry has also received about 400 to 600 calls from relatives and acquaintances inquiring about people traveling in the region, including those who did not go on package tours.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said he would do his utmost to confirm via travel agencies and embassies the status of the missing Japanese and offered his condolences to the victims and the nations hit by the disaster.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sent messages of condolences to his counterparts in Indonesia, where the temblor hit, and in Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India.

The government dispatched two Japan International Cooperation Agency officials to Indonesia on Monday to gauge the nation’s aid needs. A disaster relief team separately headed for Sri Lanka in the morning.