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Coast Guard cannons sink Japanese 'ghost ship'

Alex DeMarban
The vessel caught fire due to the highly explosive ammunition being used. Hours later, it capsized and sank. Light sheening and minimal debris have been reported from the sinking of the vessel.
US Coast Guard photo
The unmanned vessel was cast adrift by the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan last year, but it was spotted drifting off the coast of British Columbia on March 20. It now sits at bottom of Davy Jones.
US Coast Guard photo
The Coast Guard Cutter Anacapa crew fires explosive ammunition at the adrift Japanese fishing vessel, Ryou-Un Maru, 180 miles west of Southeast Alaskan coast April 5, 2012.
US Coast Guard photo
The derelict fishing vessel sank at 6:15 p.m. in 6,000 feet of water.
US Coast Guard photo
The Coast Guard worked closely with federal, state and local agencies to assess the immediate dangers the vessel presented and determined that sinking the vessel at sea would be the best course of action to help minimize any navigation and environmental threats.
US Coast Guard photo
The operation to sink the vessel began at 1 p.m. approximately 180 miles west of Southeast Alaska's southernmost coast. The effort was delayed when a Canadian fishing boat, the Bernie C, approached to attempt salvaging the hulk.
US Coast Guard photo

The rust-streaked ghost ship set adrift by last year's Japanese tsunami met a high-charged end when a smaller U.S. Coast Guard cutter blasted the vessel, deemed a high-seas hazard, on Thursday with cannon-fire 180 miles off the Southeast Alaska coast, according to the Associated Press.

The blasting of the 164-foot Ryou-Un Maru sent up a huge column of smoke before the ship vanished toward the Gulf of Alaska seafloor after about four hours.

Officials didn't know if the ship contained much diesel fuel -- it had the tank space for more than 2,000 gallons. But the pollution risk was outweighed by the risk to sailors or shorelines, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. After all, who knows where the wandering vessel might have shown up next.

The sea floor at the demolition site is more than a mile deep. The barrage left a light sheen that was expected to disappear quickly, the AP reported. 

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake that rocked Japan with a tsunami and massive damage in March dislodged the ship from its last home at Hokkaido, Japan, where it was set to be scrapped. The massive temblor also damaged a nuclear power plant, sparking the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

What about the "rat-infested" stateless pirate ship, the Bangun Perkasa? Can that be sunk, too? US Senator Mark Begich supports doing exactly that.    

But a NOAA official opposes that idea, according to a recent news report. The Bangun was seized by the US Coast Guard last fall after its crew was reportedly spotted fishing illegally on the high seas with huge trailing nets known as "curtains of death" because they indiscriminately capture fish, turtles and other animals, endangered or not.

The Bangun isn't drifting, so it didn't represent a potential marine hazard like the Ryou-Un Maru.

In an article about the Bangun, the Dutch Harbor Fisherman and Bristol Bay Times reported recently that "Begich and Rep. Don Young, both of Alaska, have introduced legislation allowing seized vessels to be sunk by the Coast Guard in target practice exercises in waters at least 50 miles offshore."

That's not "a viable option," for the Bangun Perkasa, countered Matt Brown, a NOAA special agent, according to the article.

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com