SHIZUOKA – A court found two boatmen and a tour company safety manager guilty Monday over a 2011 accident on the Tenryu River in Hamamatsu, saying they should have foreseen the capsizing that claimed five lives on the Shizuoka Prefecture waterway.
Ruling on the incident that led to stricter safety conditions for boat operators nationwide, the Shizuoka District Court sentenced Masahiro Koyama, 67, a boatman who was in charge of instructing other boatmen at Tenryu Hamanako Railroad Co., to 2½ years in prison, suspended for four years, for professional negligence resulting in death.
Presiding Judge Masanobu Sato said Koyama “failed to train others despite knowing the dangers of the vessel turning around at the site.”
Yukio Matsuno, 58, who was in charge of safety management at the company, was also given 2½ years in prison, suspended for four years. Shigeo Ohata, 67, who was controlling the boat at the time of the accident, was sentenced to three years, suspended for four years.
Sato said the suspended terms are appropriate because the company and the victims’ families had reached a settlement and the three defendants are reflecting on their conduct.
Koyama, who was not on the boat at the time of the accident, had sought an acquittal, saying the capsizing could have been avoided had the other boatmen followed his instructions. Matsuno and Ohata had admitted to the charge but called for suspended terms, saying they could not have foreseen the accident.
The ruling also said the company was not safety conscious and “lacked awareness of the dangers at the accident site.”
During the trial, Kenzo Nagura, a former president of the company who was spared an indictment, testified that Matsuno was in charge of safety management.
The accident on Aug. 17, 2011, saw the tour boat with 23 people aboard strike rocks after being caught in whirlpools. The accident led the company to discontinue the boat tours on the river and prompted the transport ministry to instruct river boat tour operators to make all passengers wear life jackets.
Masako Kondo from Nagoya, who lost her aunt, Chikako Kimura, in the accident, watched the entire trial.
Kimura, who died at age 67, is believed to have been sitting at the rear of the boat and was likely thrown into the river before anyone else.
“I think she did not understand what happened,” said Kondo, who added that by observing the trial, she gained a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the accident.
But she still cannot stop asking why the accident could not have been prevented.
“Everyone seemed to pass responsibility to others,” Kondo said. With the former president of the company saying he did not understand safety management rules, she said: “It’s too sloppy. They had people’s lives in their hands on the job.”