* Machine-gun fire from cutter sinks abandoned vessel
* Blacked-out ship posed danger to North Pacific navigation
* Japanese owner did not want to salvage the vessel
(Updates with sinking of "ghost ship")
By Yereth Rosen
ANCHORAGE, Alaska, April 5 The U.S. Coast Guard,
firing repeated machine-gun blasts from one of its cutters, on
Thursday scuttled an abandoned Japanese "ghost ship" that had
been washed out to sea near Alaska by last year's devastating
The derelict fishing vessel Ryou-Un Maru, which posed a
threat to other marine traffic, sank at about 6:15 p.m. local
time (0215 GMT on Friday), nearly five hours after the Coast
Guard first opened fire on the ship, Coast Guard Chief Petty
Officer Kip Wadlow told Reuters.
"It's confirmed," he said. "The vessel has been sunk and is
no longer a navigational hazard in the area."
The cutter crew sent the Ryou-Un Maru to the ocean floor
with a series of blasts from a 25mm machine-gun, firing
intermittently on the drifting vessel for about an hour, then
pausing as the ship caught fire and listed in the sea. The
barrage resumed after a two-hour break, and the boat was
underwater about two hours later.
The ship's Japanese owner has said it had no plans to
salvage the vessel, and Wadlow said it had been slated to be
scrapped even before it was swept away by the tsunami.
The Ryou-Un Maru was among the 1.5 million tons of debris
the Japanese government estimates was dragged out to sea by the
immense tidal surge unleashed by last year's Fukushima
earthquake, said Ben Sherman, a spokesman for the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"This boat, in this case, we know was at a particular pier,
and before the tsunami it was there and after the tsunami it
wasn't," Sherman said.
Experts from NOAA and other agencies determined that sinking
the ship was the best way to manage the potentially dangerous
fuel on board, Sherman said. "They anticipate that it'll
dissipate or evaporate very quickly," he said.
Although most of the tsunami debris expected to hit U.S.
coastlines is predicted to arrive in 2013 or later, some items
have already washed ashore. In Alaska, most of the marine debris
identified as tsunami-related has been buoys and floats from
The Ryou-Un Maru, carrying up to 2,100 gallons of diesel
fuel, was about 170 nautical miles southwest of the Alaskan town
of Sitka and had been drifting toward busy navigational lanes
used by cargo vessels plying the waters of the Great Circle
route between North America and Asia, Wadlow said.
The Great Circle arcs from the U.S. West Coast to east Asia,
passing through the Aleutian Islands.
The ship was initially spotted by Canadian officials in
waters off the coast of British Columbia, Wadlow said. It
drifted into U.S. waters on Saturday, and the U.S. Coast Guard
began its close monitoring of the vessel.
The ship, nearly 200 feet (61 meters) in length, lacked any
lighting, making it a dangerous obstacle at night, Wadlow said.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis, Cynthia Johnston, Lisa Shumaker
and Paul Simao)