HEADQUARTERS OF THE JAPANESE COAST GUARD
The planning room of the Coast Guard’s office was a frenzied rush of sound and movement. Men rushed from one corner of the room to the other, their faces a mix of confusion and focus. Others sat at a large table under an ever-present map of the Pacific, combing through paperwork and hurriedly processing whatever information they could. The sound of radio beeps and clicking typewriter keys filled the air. Chaos and fear were the order of the day.
Over a loudspeaker, a voice intoned the facts:
“The Eiko-Maru, a 7,500-ton freighter belonging to the Nankai Shipping Company, lost contact on August 13th at 19:09 hours, latitude 24-degrees north, longitude 141-degrees 2’ east. Cause of the loss of communication is unknown. Patrol vessels in Regions 3 and 4, stand by to deploy.”
It was into this noise and frenetic activity that Hideto Ogata strode, his eyes focused straight ahead, his mind attempting to remain calm. His journey to the planning room had been a challenging one; the hallways of the building had been packed with people, most of them the families of the missing fishermen. In only a few minutes of careful crowd navigation, Ogata had seen enough worried faces to last him a lifetime. He could feel their desperation, their panic…
Now, finally in the planning room and accompanied by the President of Nankai, Ogata hoped to find answers.
As a worker fought the anxious crowds to close the door behind them, Ogata and the President – a squat older gentleman with thin gray hair and thick spectacles – approached a desk at the far end of the busy room. At the desk sat the Commander of the Coast Guard, his face buried deep in the latest report on the situation. A second man, another Coast Guard member, stood behind him, and turned to greet Ogata and the President as they came to a stop in front of him.
The President was the first to speak. “Thank you for your efforts” he said gently with a slight bow, his voice trembling with concern. Ogata saw the older man’s hand grip tighter on the rim of his hat, which he’d removed upon entering the room.
“What could’ve caused this?” His voice was still shaky, less a sign of age and more an obvious betrayal of his concern.
The Coast Guard member paused for a moment before responding. “We don’t know.”
It wasn’t an unexpected response, but as he spoke it, the palpable sense of dread in the room seemed to grow thicker.
“It was very much like when Myojin-sho erupted,’ he continued. “We received an S.O.S., and then suddenly, the connection went dead.”
Ogata’s mind raced as he attempted to fit the pieces of the puzzle together. The Myojin-sho incident had occurred nearly two years earlier, and had seared itself into the mind of every man who saw fit to make the seas around Japan his livelihood. The eruption of the submarine volcano had lasted an entire year, and the initial explosion – a massive and unexpected blast that raised an entire island from the sea – had destroyed one of the Maritime Safety Agency’s research vessels, the Kaiyo-Maru #5. 31 crewmembers had been lost.
The similarities were, in Ogata’s mind, certainly extant. But something about the current situation felt oddly different. Less easily describable. Less normal…
As Ogata continued processing, the Coast Guard Commander rose abruptly from his seat, finally finished reading the latest report.
“The Bingo-Maru is approaching the area,” he said, gesturing to the wall map as he spoke. “They’re sure to find something.”
The Commander then turned to the map and began walking toward it. Ogata and the President joined him, and the three men soon stood together under the map’s shadow. Ogata’s eyes darted to the location of the Eiko-Maru’s disappearance.
24-degrees north latitude, 141-degrees east longitude.
“Right here,” he said, pointing at the spot so the President could see.
For a moment, it felt as though every eye in the room was trained on that single spot. And for the first time since receiving word of the incident, the sense of dread in the room was joined by a slight but persistent feeling of hope.
If any answers – or, God willing, survivors – were to be found, Surely the Bingo-Maru would find them.
It was only a matter of waiting…
THE SEA OF JAPAN
Darkness had fallen over the still ocean.
The water was calm, black as the night that loomed over it. The sky was largely clear of clouds, save for a few stray whisps that drifted in the distance. And yet, there were no stars.
When light finally did arrive, it came not from the sky, but from the distant, piercing lamps of an approaching ship.
The Bingo-Maru had been sailing for nearly an hour, and at breakneck pace. When it came to search and rescue, time was never an ally. The Eiko-Maru had been off the radar since shortly after 7:00. It was now approaching 9:00. With each passing moment, the chances of finding survivors shrank considerably.
This thought plagued the minds of the roughly two-dozen men who sailed in the Bingo-Maru. Each had volunteered for the mission, unwilling to leave the fates of their missing shipmates to chance. Unable to simply remain onshore while their friends might be struggling to survive at sea.
Each sailed with hope – however faint – in his heart. But intermingled with that hope was something else…
Fear. An all-encompassing, dread-filled fear of just what might be waiting for them at the site of the Eiko-Maru’s final transmission…
As the trawler etched its way through the inky black waters of the Pacific, each man kept his eyes and ears trained on the sea. If the lost ship had run afoul of an undersea volcano or even an unexploded mine, there would surely be debris. Planks of wood, an errant life raft. And of course, the all-too-sobering likelihood of bodies.
While the men watched, they also listened. Any distraction might mean missing the distant splash of a survivor, or a faint call for help.
But there was nothing. The empty silence of the sea was almost crushing in its barrenness.
There was no sign that a ship had ever passed through the area. There was no debris, no oil leaking to the surface, no hint that survivors might be floating just out of sight of the Bingo-Maru’s searchlights. The only sound for miles was the ship’s foghorn, desperately blaring into the night in the vain hope that some desperate soul might hear it and know that salvation was on the way.
And then, there was fire.
It was all over in nearly an instant. For the briefest of moments, the sea shone brightly, as if the sun were attempting to rise through the water’s surface. Then came the explosion. The Bingo-Maru erupted into flames, its steady forward momentum gradually dwindling to a dead halt as it began to sink at the bow.
It would take less than 60 seconds for the sea to claim its second ship of the night. And as the stern of the doomed trawler slipped quietly beneath the waves, a great shadow passed under it, moving silently and unseen as the surface returned, once again, to sickening stillness.
Chapter 4 Coming Soon…