The Japanese fishing vessel that drifted across the Pacific following last year's tsunami was sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard on Thursday.
OVER THE GULF OF ALASKA — The long, lonely voyage of the Japanese ghost ship is over.
A U.S. Coast Guard cutter unleashed cannon fire on the abandoned 164-foot Ryou-Un Maru on Thursday, ending a journey that began when last year’s tsunami dislodged it and set it adrift across the Pacific Ocean.
It sank into waters more than 1,000 feet deep in the Gulf of Alaska, more than 150 miles from land.
The crew pummeled the ghost ship with high-explosive ammunition and, soon after, the Ryou-Un Maru burst into flames, began to take on water and list.
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A huge column of smoke could be seen over the gulf.
In about four hours, the ship vanished into the water, said Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow in Juneau.
Officials decided to sink the ship, rather than risk it running aground or endangering other vessels in the busy shipping lanes between North America and Asia.
The ship had no lights or communications system and its tank was able to carry more than 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Officials, however, didn’t know how much fuel, if any, was aboard.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency studied the problem and decided it is safer to sink the ship and let the fuel evaporate in open water.
The ship was at Hokkaido, Japan, and destined for scrapping when a magnitude-9.0 earthquake that struck the country in March 2011 triggered a tsunami.
The waves dislodged the vessel and set it adrift.
The boat had no cargo, said Coast Guard spokesman Paul Webb. He said he didn’t know who owned the Ryou-Un Maru.
As the Coast Guard was readying to fire on the vessel, a Canadian fishing vessel, the 62-foot Bernice C, claimed salvage rights over it.
Plans to sink it were halted so the Canadian crew could have a chance to take the stricken ship. A Canadian official with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that the Bernice C was unable to tow it.
When the boat left the area, the Coast Guard began to fire, first with 25 mm shells, then a few hours later with ammunition twice that size.