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Tsunami debris: Huge dock washes up on Oregon coast

June 06, 2012|By Kim Murphy
  • People inspect a massive dock with Japanese lettering that washed ashore on Agate Beach north of Newport, Ore.
People inspect a massive dock with Japanese lettering that washed ashore… (Thomas Boyd / The Oregonian )

SEATTLE — Authorities have confirmed that a 66-foot-long dock that floated onto a beach near Newport, Ore., this week came from Japan — the latest in a growing wave of debris from the earthquake and tsunami that ripped through the Japanese coast in March 2011.

The Japanese Consulate in Portland confirmed Wednesday that the large floating pier originated at the port of Misawa in northern Japan, and from there appears to have drifted across the Pacific to where it was first spotted Monday on Agate Beach, about a mile north of Newport.

“It has a metal plaque written in Japanese. It was rather easy to identify where it originated,” Deputy Consul General Hirofumi Murabayashi told the Los Angeles Times.

By Wednesday afternoon, flocks of people were making their way to the scenic emerald cove where the dock — now surrounded by warning tape — lay beached on the sand like an alien ship.

“What we have is a really large, well-built dock that survived a cross-ocean voyage,” Chris Havel, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, said in an interview with The Times.

“It’s 66 feet long, 19 feet wide and seven feet tall, covered with reinforced concrete. We’re used to debris and trash that you can pick up and throw in a trash bag, and the occasional vessel that runs aground. Something like this, this large, this heavy, requires a little more careful handling,” he said.

Authorities say the pier was able to float across an entire ocean because, although covered in concrete, it is filled with Styrofoam.

The wayward pier is only the latest in what scientists say may be 1 million to 2 million tons of tsunami debris drifting across the Pacific.

In April, the U.S. Coast Guard unleashed cannon fire to sink a ghost ship found floating off the coast of Alaska after being cast adrift by the tsunami in Hokkaido, Japan. A shipping crate containing aHarley-Davidson motorcycle turned up in British Columbia this year.

In Oregon, the tsunami debris also contained a bit of living cargo: A starfish native to Japan was among the marine life clinging to the dock, according to scientists from the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. 

Havel said salvage experts were trying to determine whether the dock could be re-floated at the next high tide and shipped to the port of Newport, or whether it would have to be dismantled in place.

Murabayashi said Japanese officials didn't care which option the state chose.

“The owner of this dock is Aomori Prefecture,” he said, “and they told us that they do not wish to have it returned.”

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Twitter: @kimmurphy

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