U.S. Coast Guard unleashes cannon fire on abandoned Japanese ship

Friday, April 6, 2012

Yesterday, the United States Coast Guard went through with its plans to fire its cannons on the Ryō Un Maru, a Japanese ship that was sent out to sea last year by the tsunami that hit Japan.

The Ryō Un Maru has made a journey across the Pacific Ocean from Hachinohe, Japan to the Gulf of Alaska and ended up about 180 miles from the Alaskan shore. Coast Guard spokesman Paul Webb said sinking the vessel would be "less risky than it would be running into shore or running into [maritime] traffic". The plan was for a Coast Guard cutter to hole the Ryou-un Maru with fire from a range of several hundred feet, and let it sink.

Prior to the sinking of the Ryō Un Maru, a Canadian fishing vessel claimed salvage rights. Webb said they would postpone their plans to sink the 164-foot Ryō Un Maru, to allow the 62-foot Bernice C to attempt to tow it; if the Canadians were not able to tow the abandoned vessel it would be sunk as planned.

After arrival the Canadians learned they could not tow the vessel and the Coast Guard proceeded with their plans. An HC-130 Hercules airplane observed the sinking of the Ryō Un Maru and warned ships in the area of a "live fire exercise". Coast Guard cutter USCGC Anacapa firing a 25mm cannon sank the Ryō Un Maru, which had been scheduled to be scrapped prior to the 2011 tsunami.

Officials said they didn't know how much diesel fuel the vessel, which could hold over 2,000 gallons, was carrying. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Environmental Protection Agency looked into this issue and came to the conclusion that sinking the ship and letting the fuel evaporate in open water was the best course of action.

According to Alaska state health and environmental officials, tsunami debris should not cause significant concern of radiation contamination to the shores of Alaska.