U.S. Coast Guard Sinks Japanese Tsunami Ghost Ship

The wrecked fishing vessel floating in Pacific waters after the Japanese tsunami of 2011 has been sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard, a threat to navigation

The so-called ghost ship debris from last year's Japanese tsunami that was spotted off the coast of Haida Gwaii territory on March 28 has been consigned to a watery grave: The U.S. Coast Guard sank it with machine-gun fire off the coast of Alaska.

The wreck, which was identified as fishing vessel Ryou-Un Maru, posed a threat to other marine traffic, Reuters reported. It was sunk with machine-gun blasts over the course of a few hours and went down at about 6:15 p.m. local time, according to the wire service. It was being monitored by five agencies, including several in Canada.

Reuters said the owner did not want to salvage it, that it was planned for the scrap heap even before being swept out to sea in the tsunami that leveled part of northern Japan and killed at least 16,000 people. A nearby vessel had tried to salvage it but gave up, Reuters said.

The hope, at least among some of the Haida Gwaii, was that the ship could be towed in and salvaged, Robert Mills, Chief Council of the Skidegate Band of the Haida Nation, had told Indian Country Today Media Network.

Butit was carrying about 2,100 gallons of diesel and was 170 nautical miles southwest of Sitka, Alaska, drifting toward busy cargo lanes, Reuters said. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) spokesperson Ben Sherman told Reuters that officials determined that sinking the ship was the best way to manage that fuel.

"They anticipate that it'll dissipate or evaporate very quickly," he told Reuters.

This ship was merely at the forefront of an estimated 1.5 million tons of debris floating toward the Canadian and U.S. Pacific coast that is scheduled to hit next year and in 2014 but that is already starting to arrive. Mills has suggested an international cleanup and salvage operation for before the mess gets to shore, but no such plan has been announced.