Twenty-one-year-old Ardianto had come to Japan from Indonesia to learn about the fishing industry and gain skills he could take back to his home country.
But when the fishing vessel he worked on, the 119-ton Horiei Maru, collided with a cargo ship about 900 kilometers off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture on Sept. 24, he was among the 13 crew members who went missing.
Two Japan Coast Guard patrol ships on Sept. 25 started searching for the missing crew members of the Horiei Maru, which collided with the 25,000-ton Nikkei Tiger.
As of 3 p.m. Sept. 26, none of the missing crew had been found.
As well as the dangers of the sea, the accident highlights another challenge facing the Japanese fishing industry: its increasing reliance on young Asian "trainee" fishermen for cheap labor.
According to the Mie prefectural government's fishery resources division, 45 Indonesian trainees are currently dispatched in the prefecture through the Japan International Training Cooperation Organization (JITCO). Ardianto was one of the five Horiei Maru crew members who came through JITCO to learn the technique for single-hook fishing of bonitos. On shore, they lived in an apartment with fellow countrymen working for other fishing vessels. The training period lasts for up to three years, and is valuable for both the trainees and the industry.
Like many of his countrymen, Ardianto hoped to return home with the skills he had learned. Those who knew him said he would tell them, "I want to become a fisherman in my homeland."
Now, his disappearance has cast a pall over other trainees in the area.
At the Horiei Maru's home port of Kii-Nagashima, in the town of Kihoku, Mie Prefecture, three Indonesian trainees were about to board a fishing vessel on Sept. 25. They said they are all from the same island as Ardianto.
One of the men, 21-year-old Hendri Setiabudi, said, "I'm worried. I hope he's alive."
Foreign trainees are indispensable to the fishing industry in Japan, which is now borne by an aging workforce.
"Trainees are the lifeblood to keep fishing alive," said Takuya Kitaguchi, the 46-year-old chief engineer of another local fishing vessel. His ship has accepted Indonesian trainees for more than a dozen years.
Adding to the soaring costs of fuel and bait, the harsh working conditions fishermen face have been keeping young Japanese away.
"Without (foreign) trainees, Japan's fishery would collapse," Kitaguchi said.
According to the Fisheries Agency, Japan's fishing population dwindled from 510,000 in 1972 to 200,000 in 2010.
The percentage of fishermen aged 65 or older in 2010 reached 35.9 percent.
At the same time, non-Japanese trainees coming to Japan to learn fishing skills have increased, from 339 in fiscal 2007 to 447 in fiscal 2011. Many of them come from Indonesia, Philippines and China, the agency said.
Training is not easy.
One 21-year-old trainee, who is in the third year in Japan, said he works all night when his vessel returns from the bonito fishing ground, waking up every two to three hours to change the water in the tub to keep the fish fresh. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour to change the water.
He is paid about a quarter of what a Japanese fisherman receives.
Still, he said, smiling, "The Japanese are kind and single-hook fishing is exciting."
The recent collision has left its mark on the local community. Local trainees often stop by a restaurant near the Horiei Maru’s home port, operated by Kimiyo Ishikura.
"I feel as if they were my sons," said Ishikura, 61. "The missing trainee should be eating here too. I feel uneasy."
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