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Japanese 'ghost ship' laid to rest on the ocean floor off Alaska

April 06, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Smoke rises from a Japanese "ghost ship" after it was hit by canon fire from a U.S. Coast Guard vessel.
Smoke rises from a Japanese "ghost ship" after it was hit by canon… (Associated Press )

A Japanese "ghost ship" that has haunted the open seas since it was set adrift by last year's devastating tsunami has finally found a resting place -- on the ocean floor.

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter opened cannon fire on the vessel Thursday, sinking it about 180 miles west of Alaska's southeast coast and in waters more than 6,000 feet deep.

A column of smoke could be seen rising from the 164-foot Ryou-Un Maru as the Coast Guard began its assault. It took about four hours for the ship to vanish from sight, Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow told the Associated Press.

The ship's restless journey had become a symbol of the way in which Japan continues to struggle to recover from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people and damaged a nuclear power plant.

That tsunami swept about 5 million tons of debris out to sea, according to the AP, and pieces continue to wash up on shores throughout the Pacific Ocean.

The waves created in the wake of the 9.0 earthquake also ripped the Ryou-Un Maru from its moorings in Hokkaido, Japan.

The former shrimping vessel had been designated for scrapping and no longer had a communication system -- or any lights. That spooky image led the drifting vessel to be dubbed a "ghost ship." Sometimes, the ship moved along as slowly as one mile per hour.

In the year since the vessel was set adrift, authorities have mulled over how to deal with it -- and with the potential risks it posed to other vessels in the area.

One concern: The ship's rusting hull tank was able to carry more than 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel, according to the AP, although it was not clear how much fuel, if any, was aboard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency ultimately concluded it would be safest to sink the ship and let any fuel dissipate in the open water, according to the Associated Press.

"It's less risky than it would be running into shore or running into [maritime] traffic," Coast Guard spokesman Paul Webb told the news service.

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