Japanese coast guard in search for missing island near disputed Russia border
Japan’s coast guard has launched a search mission to find an island off its northernmost coast that has unexpectedly vanished – taking Tokyo’s territorial claims with it.
The strategically significant island is assumed to have disappeared under the chilly waters of the Sea of Okhotsk between the northern tip of Japan’s Hokkaido region and Russia, having been eroded by winds and snow.
Esanbe Hanakita Kojima was one of 158 uninhabited islands that the Japanese government named four years ago in a bid to clearly mark its territorial boundaries with Russia.
International laws dictate that islands can only be designated as boundary markers if they can be seen above the sea surface, raising concerns that Japan’s territorial waters may now have shrunk.
Locals in the nearest village of Sarufutsu apparently failed to notice the disappearance of the islet, which is around 0.3 miles off the coast of their island.
Instead, author Hiroshi Shimizu reportedly raised the alarm after visiting the village in September to view Esanbe Hanakita Kojima to research a new book on hidden islands.
When he was unable to locate the island, he informed the local fishery cooperative association, which confirmed it could not be seen from boats at sea either.
Japan’s Coastguard, which has launched a mission to locate Esanbe Hanakita Kojima, last conducted a survey of the island just over three decades ago, when it was found to measure around 4.6 feet above sea level.
Esanbe Nose Kitajima | Missing island off the North coast of Japan
“There is a possibility that the islet has been eroded by wind and snow and, as a result, disappeared,” Tomoo Fujii, a senior coastguard official told the Asahi newspaper.
The waters off northern Hokkaido are particularly sensitive in terms of Russian-Japanese relations, due to a decades-long territorial dispute over a string of four islands.
Known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Kuriles in Russia, the lingering dispute is the reason why Russia and Japan have not yet signed a World War Two peace treaty.
Japan is not alone in experiencing the phenomenon of vanishing islands, with rising sea levels fueled by global warming increasingly wiped small islands off the map in recent years.
East Island, an 11-acre island in Hawaii, was reported as vanished last month after coming into contact with a powerful hurricane.
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