Flashback in maritime history: Toya Maru Japanese ferry sinking, resulting in 1500 deaths, 26 Sept. 1954


(www.MaritimeCyprus.com) The Tōya Maru was a Japanese train ferry constructed by the Japanese National Railways which sank during a typhoon in the Tsugaru Strait between the Japanese islands of Hokkaidō and Honshūon September 26, 1954.

The Japanese National Railways announced in September 1955 that 1,153 people aboard were killed in the accident. However, the exact number of fatalities remains unknown because there were victims who managed to obtain passage on the ship at the last minute, and others who cancelled their rides just before the incident occurred.


The typhoon (known as No. 15 in Japan and named “Marie” in the West) had been moving northeastward through the Sea of Japan (East Sea; along Japan’s western coast) at speeds exceeding 40 miles (65 km) per hour and struck northern Honshu and southern Hokkaido (which are separated by the Tsugaru Strait) on the afternoon of September 26. Although the Toya Maru’s voyage from Hakodate (on Hokkaido) to Aomori (on Honshu) had earlier been canceled because of the severe storm, the ship’s captain decided to depart in the evening after the weather had appeared to improve.

The typhoon gained strength shortly after the Toya Maru left the Hakodate dock (about 6:40 pm) with a full load of passengers and railway cars. The ship quickly dropped anchor in the harbour in order to ride out the typhoon, but the anchor failed against the severity of the storm. The ship was dragged out of the harbour and onto rocks by the gale-force winds and high waves. Cast adrift, the ship listed severely, and water was able to enter the lower decks and the engine room, rendering the ship’s engine inoperable.

With its cargo of train cars breaking loose from their moorings and crushing passengers, its engines out of order, and water continuing to pour into the ship, the Toya Maru could not be saved. It eventually capsized and sank a short distance off the shore of Hakodate, killing most of the people on board.

The disaster was compared to the sinking of the Titanic in Japanese reports at the time.

Typhoon No. 15 sank several other cargo ferries and some 200 other sea vessels on September 26. Although the other ferries did not carry passengers, approximately 275 crew members were killed, which brought the total number of fatalities at sea to more than 1,430. The total death toll (on land and sea) across Japan from the typhoon exceeded 3,000, with the number of vessels destroyed, damaged, or sunk estimated at about 1,130.

A significant outcome of the Toya Maru ferry disaster was the decision to build the Seikan Tunnel beneath the Tsugaru Strait to carry railway traffic. It was completed in 1988 and is the longest undersea tunnel in the world.

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