Owner of Tsunami Boat That Drifted Across Pacific Does Not Want Vessel Back

Canadian Department of National Defence via The Canadian Press/AP Photo

The owner of an empty Japanese fishing boat that drifted across the Pacific after being washed away by the powerful tsunami last year, says he does not want the boat back, according to a Japanese Coast Guard official.

The rusty, 150 foot vessel was spotted in Canadian waters last week, roughly 900 miles north of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Coast Guard spokesman Masahiro Ichijou said the vessel belonged to a fishing company in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island.

Officials contacted the 60-year-old owner in the city of Hakkodate, who said he cancelled the boat registration shortly after the disaster last March, thinking the vessel had been lost at sea, forever.

"Usually boat owners are not allowed to cancel registration until they properly dispose or dismantle it," Ichijou said. "But with the disaster last year, we made an exception. This is an unprecedented case."

According to local media reports, the 30-year-old vessel had been used for squid fishing in northern Japan years ago, but the owner put it up for sale, deciding it was too old.

It was docked in the Aomori Prefecture, unused, when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hit March 11, unleashing a catastrophic tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people.

The 150 ton boat was spotted nearly a year later on March 20, during a routine patrol by a Canadian Forces aircraft.

"The owner has said he is no longer responsible because he cancelled the registration, but that puts us in a bind," Ichijou said. "We have a boat with no owner, and we're trying to determine how to move forward."

Ichijou said standard practice requires countries where marine trash and debris are found, to pick up the cost for disposal.

However, with more than a million tons of debris drifting towards the U.S. and Canada, he said the government is treating the problem separately.

They have already set aside a budget to track and monitor the debris.