U.S. Coast Guard tries to sink Japanese boat washed away by tsunami
A U.S. Coast Guard vessel opened fire Thursday afternoon on an abandoned fishing trawler that had drifted near Alaska after last year’s tsunami off Japan, causing it to catch fire and begin taking on water, a Coast Guard spokesman said.
The operation was intended to sink the Ryou-Un Maru so it would not endanger other ships. Coast Guard District 17 was broadcasting the vessel’s location to mariners to alert them to the hazard.
Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley said the Coast Guard continued firing on the ship throughout the afternoon. The firing was to stop at sunset and resume in the morning, if the ship has not sunk by then, he said.
The gunneries operation began at 1 p.m., said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Jonathan Lally. “The Coast Guard vessel Ana Kappa, based out of Petersburg, Alaska, opened fire with 25 mm cannons on the Japanese vessel. The time it will take to sink is dependent on the weather conditions in the area.”
The U.S. Geological Survey advised the Coast Guard where the ship’s sinking would have the least environmental impact.
“The potential for a pollution incident is unknown at this time, but officials have limited concerns about any biological threats due to the length of time the vessel has been at sea,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
The ship drifted from Canadian waters into U.S. waters on Saturday and was located late Thursday 180 miles west of the Dixon Entrance in Southeast Alaska, the Coast Guard said.
A Canadian vessel, the Bernie C, had expressed an interest in salvage, which delayed the operation, but officials deemed that it would be too unsafe to tow or attempt to salvage the vessel, said Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow.
The rust-stained trawler is part of a giant debris field in the Pacific Ocean generated by the devastating wall of water that struck northeastern Japan after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011.
The enormous wave dragged everything from cars to houses out into the ocean, killing thousands of people.
The drifting trawler was considered a hazard to navigation for vessels in the area, according to authorities. Area mariners were informed about the unmanned and unlit boat’s presence.
The trawler was first spotted floating near British Columbia by a Canadian military air patrol, and it was then determined that it had been adrift since the tsunami, Canadian officials said last month.
The Japan Coast Guard identified the owner of the vessel after being contacted by Canadian officials, who were provided the identification number on the hull.
The vessel, which was used for squid fishing, was moored at Hachinohe in the Aomori prefecture when the tsunami hit, Japanese authorities said.