Japanese ship watched for oil, debris after being sunk

The Coast Guard Cutter Anacapa crew douses the adrift Japanese vessel after shelling started a fire. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen.

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The Coast Guard is watching for fuel and debris from a derelict Japanese fishing vessel it sank off the coast of Southeast Alaska on Thursday.

Kip Wadlow of the agency’s public affairs office says nothing of significance has been found so far. A small sheen was spotted Thursday, but was expected to dissipate quickly.

Wadlow says the Petersburg-based cutter Anacapa began firing at approximately 1 p.m. Thursday.

The Ryou-Un Maru went down at 6:15 p.m. in about 6,000 feet of water.

“When the ship started to sink, the starboard quarter, or the right-back side, went in the water first. And then the ship just slowly rolled over and sank,” Wadlow says.

The approximately 200-foot vessel was washed out to sea by last year’s Japanese tsunami. It crossed the Pacific Ocean without crew or power, then drifted up the coast of British Columbia into Alaska waters.

Wadlow says the Coast Guard fired 440 rounds of explosive ordinance at the ship’s waterline.

“The reason why we decided to sink this vessel is that it posed a safety threat to mariners and maritime shipping that travel the sea lanes off of Southeast Alaska,” he says.

Firing was delayed when a fishing boat captain expressed interest in salvaging the ship. He decided against the idea after getting a closer look.

The Ryou-Un Maru caught on fire after the first round of shelling. Wadlow says the Anacapa’s crew put it out by shooting a stream of water from their vessel.

“There was a significant smoke plume and we didn’t want to worry any mariners in the area thinking that there might be a vessel on fire and people in danger,” he says.

The Japanese ship was about 180 miles west of Sitka when it sank.

It’s not clear what hazardous materials were on board. The Coast Guard does not believe the ship contained any radiation.

An agency C-130 aircraft is flying a grid over the area to check for oil or debris.

The Coast Guard Cutter Anacapa fires explosive ammunition at the adrift Japanese fishing vessel, Ryou-Un Maru, before it sank Thursday evening. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen.

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