Israeli Zim Ship Suspected of Killing 7 Off Japanese Coast

FM officials say they are checking on the incident in conjunction with Japanese authorities.

SAPPORO, Japan --An Israeli ship is the main suspect in a hit-and-run accident with a Japanese fishing boat, in which seven fishermen were killed, Japanese media reported on Saturday.

The accident took place on Thursday near Hokkaido, Japan's northern island.

The Israeli ship, Zim Asia, allegedly sped away from the scene of the accident without reporting the collision or trying to assist the fishermen.

Fishing radars showed a ship passed through the accident site early Wednesday, and suddenly changed direction, according to Japanese coast guard spokesman Osamu Kon. Coast guard planes later sighted the Israeli container vessel in nearby waters.

The South Koreans told Japan, which investigated the whereabouts of several ships seen in the area, that an Israeli ship showing signs of a collision had docked in the southern South Korean port of Busan on Friday, coast guard spokesman Osamu Kon said.

The ship's Israeli crew members were questioned by Korean police and reportedly refused to cooperate and only agreed to give up their travel log after a long argument.

The South Korean authorities suspected the ship had been involved in an accident, but the ship's captain Moshe Ben David insisted he didn't feel any collision, according to an official at South Korea's Busan Coast Guard.

When asked if his ship traveled near Hokkaido, Ben David replied, "I don't know a place called Hokkaido."

On Saturday the ship left Korea for an unknown destination. The Korean official said it was not detained because the accident did not occur in Korea's territorial waters and Korea had no authority to detain it or to conduct investigations.

Zim Asia has collision marks along 30 meters with white paint marks identical with the color of the Japanese fishing boat. South Korea police have sent Japanese police a paint sample, a copy of the boat's travel log and its GPS records.

A Zim spokesman said on Saturday that Zim Asia was now on its way from South Korea to Shanghai. The boat's captain has informed the Zim headquarters in Haifa that his ship was not involved in the fishing boat accident. The boat started its trip in mid-September in Seattle and is scheduled to return there after reaching Shanghai.

Israel's ambassador to Japan, Eli Cohen, confirmed that the embassy has been briefed on the matter, which is currently being handled from Israel.

Cohen added that Japanese officials have yet to contact the embassy regarding the incident.

Foreign Ministry officials say they are checking on the incident in conjunction with Japanese authorities as well as Zim.

The seven Japanese crew members of No. 3 Shinseimaru, which overturned about 40 kilometers off Hokkaido's cape of Nosappu before dawn last Wednesday, were all residents of Hokkaido.

The only survivor, Kanama Fujisato, 53, said that he was asleep when the collision took place and awoke from a hard bump in the board. "Immediately after the bump the boat capsized. It happened in two to three minutes. I was in water up to my shoulders but managed to grasp a life vest that floated in my direction. For hours I beat on the sides of the boat with a board. When I heard a similar noise outside the boat I thought I might survive after all," he said.

"We are acting on suspicions that the Israeli ship was involved, but we've reached no definite conclusions yet," said Kon, adding that Japanese investigations were continuing.

Japan is expected to request Israel's collaboration in the investigation. Criminal charges would only be pressed, if at all, in Israel.

Last Wednesday at about 6 A.M. the 19-ton fishing boat was found overturned by another fishing boat off the Hokkaido coast. The last contact with the boat was made at 1 A.M. and it was due back at Namuro port at 4:30 A.M. When it failed to return, a search was launched.