Japan boat
This handout picture taken and released on April 24, 2022 by the 1st Regional Coast Guard Headquarters shows personnel conducting a search and rescue operation for those on board the missing tourist boat Kazu I at a rocky coastal area of Hokkaido's Shiretoko peninsula. Image Credit: AFP

Tokyo: Rescuers said Sunday they had found nine people, most of them unresponsive, from a boat that sank off Japan's northern coast with 26 on board a day earlier.

"As of 11am (0200GMT), coastguard aircraft have rescued four people, local police aircraft rescued four people and a Self Defence Force aircraft rescued one person from waters or rocky coastal areas," Japan's coastguard said in a press release.

Earlier, local officials and media said those retrieved so far were unresponsive, though the exact condition of all nine was not immediately clear.

Those rescued so far were being taken to medical facilities, with national broadcaster NHK showing at least one person on a stretcher being moved by rescue workers from a helicopter to an ambulance.

Search and rescue operations were continuing for others still missing from the Kazu I, which sent a distress signal at 1:13 pm (0413 GMT) on Saturday saying it was sinking in the frigid waters off Japan's northeastern coast.

The sightseeing boat with 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew on board said its bow was flooded.

The coastguard sent seven vessels and five aircraft for the search and rescue mission Sunday, joined by police and military helicopters as well as other local fishing boats.

High winds and waves

The Shiretoko Peninsula was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005. It is well known for its unique wildlife, including the endangered Steller sea lion, as well as migratory birds and brown bears.

Sightseeing boat trips in the area are popular for visitors hoping to spot whales, birds and other wildlife, as well as drift ice in the winter.

Japan's borders remain closed to tourists because of COVID-19 rules, so sightseeing in the country is effectively limited to residents and Japanese citizens.

Conditions on Saturday were rough, with high waves and strong winds that reportedly prompted some local fishing boats to return to shore early.