The Coast Guard is looking, but it seems like Japan has lost an island

With its ongoing maritime disputes with China hopelessly unresolved, the last thing Japan needed to do was go and lose an island.

And yet.

It appears no one can find the Japanese island formerly known as Esanbe Hanakita Kojima.

Not even the Japanese Coast Guard, which has been out searching for the strategically significant sliver of land last sighted somewhere off the coast of Hokkaido.

Even worse, the island first named in 2014 may have shuffled below this mortal coil a fair while ago.

This was back in September when author Hiroshi Shimizu visited nearby Sarufutsu village to write a sequel to his picture book on Japan's "hidden" islands.

Shimizu told the local fishing cooperative, which sent out a flotilla to its former location only to find it had disappeared.

Japanese officials now believe that the island that once rose about five feet above sea level, has been inexorably broken apart by the pack ice that covers the area throughout the bitter winter. The Guardian seems to confirm this.

The uncertain conclusion is that it has gradually, uncomplainingly, slipped beneath the surface.

While Esanbe Hanakita Kojima might have been too small to be of much practical use, it did have an importance well beyond its fragility.

Before its unexpected absence, the island marked the very western indent of another disputed island chain Japan calls the Northern Territories, while Russia claims the archipelago as the Kuril islands.

China's South China Morning Post said that the island was formally named by Tokyo in 2014 as part of Japan's multipronged attempts to reinforce its legal control over hundreds of outlying islands and extend its exclusive economic zone, (EEZ) appears to have sunk without a trace.

The Japanese coastguard has been tasked with carrying out a survey of the area to see if the remnants of the island remain.

It was last formally surveyed in 1987, when records showed it was about 500 metres off Sarufutsu.

The Japanese government used the island to buffer its EEZ a similar distance out to sea where Japanese waters mingle into Russian territory.

But even if they can find the waterlogged remains of Esanbe Hanakita Kojima, it can no longer meet the very basic international legal definition of an island — land — and Japan's territorial claims appear to be about half a kilometer smaller.

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