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KUSHIRO (Kyodo) An Israeli shipping company Monday denied in court that a containership it owns fled after a fatal collision with a Japanese fishing boat off Hokkaido last September, but said it intends to seek a settlement with the next of kin who are suing the firm.

In the suit’s first oral proceedings before the Kushiro District Court, the defense team of Zim Integrated Shipping Services Ltd. said the crewmen on the 41,507-ton containership had been “unaware of the collision” with the 19-ton Shinsei Maru No. 3 and therefore denied it was a hit-and-run.

The defense also argued in court that the plaintiffs’ claim that negligence had solely occurred on the part of the freighter “lacked objectivity.”

However, at a news conference, the company’s representative expressed a willingness to settle, saying, “As (the trial) is likely to be prolonged, we would like to seek a settlement soon once all the evidence is presented.”

The relatives of the seven crewmen killed when the fishing boat capsized are seeking a combined 900 million yen.

The Shinsei Maru No. 3 and the Israeli ship collided in the early hours of Sept. 28 off Nemuro. Only one crewman on the fishing boat survived the collision.

The plaintiffs claim the Shinsei Maru had safely cleared the bow of the containership, but the two vessels collided because the freighter suddenly altered course to starboard to avoid another ship.

They said the Israeli ship left the scene without attempting to rescue the fishermen or alert authorities.

The surviving crewman, Kaname Fujisato, and the owner of the Shinsei Maru joined 24 relatives of the dead in filing the suit.

The Japan Coast Guard believes the Shinsei Maru also bore a responsibility to prevent the collision and has turned over to prosecutors their case of professional negligence against the vessel’s boatswain, who is among the dead.

Israeli prosecutors have indicted two sailors who were on watch at the time, and an accident report compiled by the Israeli transport ministry has pointed out flaws in Zim’s operational regulations.