Zim Board of Directors Chairman Idan Ofer paid a visit to the Japanese embassy in Israel Monday to apologize for Israel's involvement in the fishing boat accident in northern Japan last week, where seven people were killed.
After he left the meeting with Japanese envoy Jun Yokota, Ofer said: "On behalf of Zim Shipping, we want to first of all apologize to the crew of the Japanese vessel. It's a sad day for us," he said. "Zim will fully cooperate with the investigation into the incident. The Israeli transportation minister sent a special investigator to Hong Kong to interview our crew and captain on the ship. We invite the Japanese transportation minister to join our investigation. We'll be more than happy to share findings from this inquiry."
Ofer added that senior officials at Zim are making their way to Japan to visit the families of the victims, offer them any help they can, and ensure the shipping company fully cooperates with the investigation.
Earlier, the Japanese Coast Guard officially announced it had determined - following a thorough investigation - that the Israeli cargo ship belonging to the Zim Asia shipping company was responsible for hitting the fishing boat.
"There is no doubt Zim's ship hit the Japanese boat, but we don't believe our captain was aware he hit anything…any captain aware that he hit a vessel, and that there were survivors, would have offered help," Ofer said.
'Japan will ask Israeli government to cooperate'
The Coast Guard's announcement is the first official statement tying the Israeli ship to the incident.
According to the statement, quoted in the Japanese News Agency Kyodo, the paint and coating material from the Israeli vessel belonging to Zim Asia was found to be identical to fragments of paint detected on the hull of the Japanese vessel, the Shinsei Maru No.3.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda called a press conference Monday.
"The Japanese government will ask the Israeli government to cooperate in determining the causes of the incident," Hosoda said.
Meanwhile, it was reported Sunday that the Israeli Transportation Ministry sent an official to Hong Kong, where the Zim Asia ship is expected to dock, in a bid to collect evidence from the ship's crew members.
In addition, Zim Asia announced it would send a senior representative to question the crew members, as well as company officials to Japan to investigate the incident along.
Zim revised its version Sunday, after initially denying any involvement in the accident.
“If it is found that Zim Asia was involved in this unfortunate accident, the company will claim responsibility,” Zim spokesman Rani Rahav said.
Hit and run?
While the incident occurred Wednesday, it was only exposed in the media Saturday.
According to reports, a commercial ferry belonging to the Zim shipping firm hit a Japanese fishing boat in the northern Japanese sea, close to Hokkaido Island.
From the intensity of the clash, the 19 ton Japanese boat capsized after coming into contact with the 4000 ton commercial ferry.
While seven sailors lost their lives, the Japanese Coastal Guard managed to save one fisherman who claimedthe Israeli ferry did not stop to help crew.
Upon arriving at South Korea’s Posan port, the Israeli vessel was inspected by the Korean Coast Guard, who launched an investigation in accordance with a Japanese request.
Initial findings confirmed the Israeli ferry carried marks of a collision and a one meter-long crack.
The Japanese Coast Guard said the Israeli ferry was the only ship in the area to bare such signs.
Korean authorities have taken samples of the ship’s colored insulation material, as well as records of its navigation track. However, they were not authorized to delay the ship and it continued to China.
'Large vessels don't usually feel smaller ones'
When asked about the incident, Captain Moshe Ben-David said he did not feel any collision at the time.
A Zim official told Ynet that he had spoken with the crew members following the incident, who said they did not feel anything unusual and were not aware of the accident until they heard about it from other sources.
However, according to Japanese radar data published at the end of the week, the Israeli vessel changed its course a short while after its sailing path intersected with that of another, smaller vessel.
An expert in maritime accidents told Ynet on condition of anonymity that large vessels usually don’t feel collisions with smaller ships.
“Current sailing systems do not allow sailors to detect all signs appearing on their screen. In fact the responsibility for accidents like these lies with smaller ships,” he said.
Iris Georlette contributed to the story