OVER THE GULF OF ALASKA — The U.S. Coast Guard plans to use cannon fire to sink a derelict Japanese ship dislodged by last year's massive tsunami.
The shrimping vessel, which has no lights or communications systems, was floating about 195 miles south of Sitka in the Gulf of Alaska on Thursday morning, traveling about 1 mile per hour.
The ship holds more than 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel and authorities are concerned it could interfere with the course of other vessels as it drifts through shipping lanes. A Coast Guard cutter was headed out to the ship on Thursday with plans to fire cannons loaded with high explosive rounds to sink the vessel.
If left to drift, the ship would ground somewhere, said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Charley Hengen.
"It's safer to mitigate the risks now before there's an accident or environmental impact," Hengen said.
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 the open water.
The Coast Guard will warn other ships to avoid the area, and will observe from an HC-130 Hercules airplane.
The vessel, named Ryou-Un Maru, is believed to be 150 to 200 feet long. It has been adrift from Hokkaido, Japan, since it was launched by the tsunami caused by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake that struck Japan last year. About 5 million tons of debris were swept into the ocean by the tsunami.
The Japan earthquake triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl accident in 1986, but Alaska state health and environmental officials have said there's little need to be worried that debris landing on Alaska shores will be contaminated by radiation. They have been working with federal counterparts to gauge the danger of debris including material affected by a damaged nuclear power plant, to see if Alaska residents, seafood or wild game could be affected.
In January, a half dozen large buoys suspected to be from Japanese oyster farms appeared at the top of Alaska's panhandle and may be among the first debris from the tsunami.
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