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The Toya Maru was a Japanese train ferry operating in the Tsugaru Strait between the Japanese islands of Hokkaido and Honshu.  On 26 September 1954, she sank when she encountered Typhoon Marie.  The exact death toll remains unknown, but a statement released by the Japanese National Railway in 1955 placed it at 1,153 people.

History of the Toya Maru

The Toya Maru was built by Japanese National Railways and launched on 21 November 1947.  She was 118.7 m (130 yd) long and 15.85 m (60 ft) at its beam.  She had a Gross Register Tonnage of 3,898 tons, and could accommodate 1,128 passengers and had a crew of 120.  She was capable of making the distance between Aomori and Hakodate in 4.5 hours.  The Toya Maru was fitted with radar equipment in 1950, making her the first of the Japanese sea liners to have this capacity.  She enjoyed celebrity as the flagship of Tsugaru Strait.

Accident

On 26 September 1954 Typhoon No. 15 of the season, Marie, passed through Honshu and into the Sea of Japan at 12:00.  She was moving northeast at speeds over 100 km per hour.  Marie was predicted to reach the Tsugaru Strait at 17:00.

At 11:00, the Toya Maru arrived at Hakodate, having made her first journey that day from Aomori.  She was scheduled to leave at 14:40 in order to be in Aomori ahead of Typhoon Marie.  However, passengers from another ferry, the Dai 11 Seikan Maru, had to be transferred onto the Toya Maru because the former was in bad shape and no longer capable of making its route.  The transfer delayed the departure of the Toya Maru.

The Toya Maru’s captain decided to cancel the departure from Hakodate at 15:10.  However, at 17:00 the weather cleared up in Hakodate and the captain assumed that the typhoon had passed.  He did not know that Typhoon Marie was predicted to stay over the strait for the rest of the day, nor that she was gaining strength on the Japan Sea and was now an extratropical cyclone.

At 18:39 Toya Maru left Hakodate with 1309 passengers aboard.  At 19:01 she lowered anchor near the Hakodate Port to wait for the weather to clear.  The high winds rendered the anchor ineffective and the Toya Maru began to drift.  Water entered the steam engine and the engine stopped, making the Toya Maru uncontrollable.  The captain decided to beach the Toya Maru on Nanae Beach outside of Hakodate City.  At 22:26 the Toya Maru was beached and an SOS call was made.  Strong waves buffeted the Toya Maru until she capsized and sank at 22:43, several hundred meters offshore.  1,153 people died.

Aftermath

Ferry traffic still travels on the Tsugaru Strait.  However, the sinking of the Toya Maru was one of the deciding factors that led to the construction of the Seikan Tunnel that now connects the islands of Hokkaido and Honshu.

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Tokyo, Japan  JP
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