KOBE – One woman became unresponsive and 14 others were injured after a passenger boat rammed into a navigation aid near Kobe Airport, the Japan Coast Guard said Thursday.
Twenty-nine people were aboard when the accident took place at around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, just before the boat arrived at the airport in Hyogo Prefecture. An 80-year-old woman fell unconscious while 14 other passengers, from teenagers to people in their 60s, sustained a range of injuries.
The 40-year-old captain of the ship and a 22-year-old chief engineer escaped injury. The 84-ton Sora had departed from Kansai International Airport in neighboring Osaka Prefecture at 9 p.m. and was scheduled to reach Kobe Airport 30 minutes later.
The operator of the ferry service quoted the captain as saying the collision occurred after he lost his bearings. The ship, with a capacity of 110 people, had been sailing around 500 meters west of its usual route before the collision. The port side of the boat was damaged and became flooded.
The coast guard is investigating the accident on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in injuries, suspecting poor maneuvering or malfunction of the ship, as the sea and wind were calm and visibility good at the time of the accident.
An official of the ferry service operator told a news conference that the accident was likely caused by human error, as the captain had mistaken the location of the ship because he had not been using any instrumentation to position the boat.
The operator said the captain started working from 2 p.m. Wednesday and was making the fourth round trip of the day at the time of the accident. No health issues were discovered in a checkup conducted prior to his boarding.
The president of the company offered apologies to the passengers.
One of the passengers alerted the coast guard of the accident, in which the ship collided with the guide light structure of the airport on a man-made island located in the northwestern part of Osaka Bay.
The ferry service, dubbed the Bay Shuttle, is a 30-minute, one-way journey.