OVER THE GULF OF ALASKA - A US Coast Guard cutter poured cannon fire into an abandoned Japanese ship that had been drifting since last year’s tsunami, sinking the vessel in the Gulf of Alaska and eliminating the hazard it posed to shipping and the coastline.
The cutter’s guns tore holes in the 164-foot Ryou-Un Maru on Thursday, ending the vessel’s long, lonely journey across the Pacific. As the crew pummeled the ship, it burst into flames and began taking on water, officials said.
A huge column of smoke could be seen over the gulf as a Coast Guard C-130 cargo plane, sent to observe the sinking, dropped a buoy to monitor for any possible pollution.
In about four hours, the ship, its hull pockmarked with holes, vanished into the water, said Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow in Juneau. It sank into waters more than 6,000 feet deep, about 180 miles from land, the Coast Guard said.
Officials decided to sink the ship rather than risk the chance of 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 didn’t know how much fuel, if any, was aboard.