The president of a leading Israeli shipping company has apologised for a collisionthat killed seven Japanese fishermen in the high seas but insisted the vessel involved had not noticed anything amiss when the incident happened.
Doron Godr, the president of Zim Integrated Shipping Services, said that the company would co-operate fully with an official Japanese investigation into the accident, and would offer unspecified help to the families of the victims.
Mr Godr flew to Tokyo as Japanese marine authorities opened an official inquiry into the incident in which seven out of eight crew members on the fishing vessel the Shinseimaru were killed off the northern coast of Japan last week.
The Israeli container shipZim Asia continued its journey after the accident to the South Korean port of Pusan, where the captain and crew were briefly interviewed by police and denied any knowledge of the incident.
There was only one survivor when the 19-ton fishing vessel overturned last Wednesday about 25 miles off the cape of Nosappu, on the island of Hokkaido.
The mystery of the exact sequence of events deepened with a report yesterday in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the captain of Zim Asia had been sleeping at the time of the incident. It said dispatches between the Israeli ship and the company's headquarters in Haifa suggested the ship's navigational equipment did alert the crew to the presence of the fishing vessel.
Haaretz said the warnings did not receive a response from the ship's second-in-command, on duty at the time.
An attempt was made by The Independent to contact the company in relation to the allegations, but no response was received.
Haaretz added that the 41,500-ton vessel's crew admitted changing course around the time of the collision, but without being aware it had taken place.
When South Korean police asked Captain Ben David whether his ship had been near the island on the night of the accident, he reportedly said: "Hokkaido, I've never heard of such a place."
Haaretz said the radar tracking log on a second fishing vessel nearby, the Sushimaro, recorded that Zim Asia's change of course took place immediately after the Shinseimaru had disappeared from screens.
Takahiro Okushima, of the Japanese coastguard, said that in a meeting with coastguard officials Mr Godr had offered an apology for the accident, and the Kyodo News Agency reported that he would be going to Hokkaido to meet the victims' families.
Zim's headquarters initially denied that one of their ships had been involved in the accident.