A sports fishing boat capsized and sank Wednesday morning after colliding with a Maritime Self-Defense Force transport ship in the Seto Inland Sea off Otake, Hiroshima Prefecture, leaving two of the four men on board the leisure craft in critical condition, the Defense Ministry and the Japan Coast Guard said.
The owner of the boat and three other anglers were thrown into the water in the collision, which occurred at around 8 a.m.
They were rescued by the MSDF vessel, the 180-meter-long tank landing ship Osumi.
The owner of the small craft, Kiyoshi Takamori, 67, and Koji Otake, 66, were listed as unconscious and in critical condition, while the other two — Shoji Teraoka, 67, and Norito Fushida, 67 — were not injured, officials said. All four are from the city of Hiroshima.
One of the rescued men was quoted as telling Coast Guard officials investigating the incident that the leisure boat must have collided with the port side of the Osumi. The Coast Guard detected traces of the collision on the MSDF vessel’s hull.
The sea was calm and the weather fair when the accident occurred, the authorities said.
The Osumi was moving in about the same direction as the leisure boat and slowed down to make way for the boat when the accident occurred, a Defense Ministry official said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, just back from a weeklong trip to the Middle East and Africa, said the government will “undertake an exhaustive investigation” into the cause of the accident.
“As the supervisor (of the MSDF), I find it highly regrettable that such an accident occurred,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told a news conference. “We will cooperate fully with the Coast Guard investigation.”
The prime minister’s office set up an emergency management office to deal with the incident, officials said.
The 8,900-ton Osumi was on its way to a shipyard in Okayama Prefecture for regular maintenance.
The vessel, which has a crew of 135, is equipped with medical facilities, and was dispatched to the Philippines in November for typhoon-relief work.
According to an official of a firm that operates ferries between the port of Otake and nearby Atata Island, the area is popular with sports fishermen.
The incident is the latest in a series of accidents between MSDF ships and private vessels.
In February 2008, the 7,750-ton destroyer Atago, equipped with the Aegis air defense system, collided with the 7.3-ton trawler Seitoku Maru off Chiba Prefecture. The father and son aboard the trawler were lost at sea.
The Tokyo High Court in June upheld a lower court acquittal of two MSDF officers over the collision. The ruling contradicted a January 2009 judgment by the Yokohama Maritime Accident Tribunal and a May 2009 Defense Ministry report that blamed the Atago for the collision, saying that because it saw the trawler to its right, it had a duty to avoid a collision under the Law for Prevention of Collisions at Sea.