Washed-up boat in California confirmed as Japanese tsunami debris

On April 7th, a 20 foot fishing boat, crusted with barnacles and somewhat worse for wear, washed ashore in the small town of Crescent City, in northern California. Its arrival on US shores prompted an investigation to match this lost and lonely fishing boat to its owner, and, just three weeks later, it was confirmed that this particular panga was a long way from home, and is in fact the first debris from Japan’s devastating 2011 tsunami to find its way across the Pacific Ocean to Californian shores.

It seems that social media played an important role in the locating of the vessel’s home town. Upon hearing about the boat washing up in Crescent City, Lori Dengler, a geologist at the Humboldt State University, translated the Japanese characters which adorned the sides of the fishing boat with the help of a University librarian. The handwritten characters translated to ‘Takata High School’, and ‘Rikuzentakata’, a coastal town in northern Japan which was all but wiped out by the tsunami. Without further delay, Dengler, who had in fact travelled to Rikuzentakata shortly after the tsunami, posted photos of the boat to Rikuzentakata’s Facebook page, and within hours, a teacher at the Takata High School had identified the boat as belonging to the school.

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed the boat’s origin on Thursday, after conferring with the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco. But the fishing boat is not the first piece of debris which has been traced back to Rikuzentakata. A football with a student’s name on it was recently found washed up on an Alaska island, and was also identified as having travelled from the Japanese town. Keeley Belva, a spokesperson for the NOAA, said “As of 4 April, NOAA has received approximately 1,691 official debris reports, of which we have been able to confirm that 27 items are definite tsunami debris as of today. The skiff is the first confirmed item for California.” Other confirmed items include a small boat found in Hawaii waters, and a motorcycle washed up on the shores of British Columbia.

Rikuzentakata was reported to have been “wiped off the map” by the tsunami following the Tōhoku earthquake. Hundreds of its citizens died in the disaster, and just a handful of buildings were left standing in the coastal town. Two years on, the town is still being rebuilt, and the effects of the tsunami are felt every day. Amya Miller, the city’s global public relations officer, reflects on the sentimental value of the washed-up school boat: “Everything that was lost, we just never expected to find again. That something made it across the Pacific and landed practically on your doorstep is one of those ‘you can’t make it up moments…that something made it across the ocean is beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful.”

Takata High School has requested the boat be returned to them. Miller said of the request “Having it back would be incredibly meaningful only because the school lost so much – the city lost so much.” Discussions are currently taking place to determine the best way to return the boat to its hometown.

Sources include The Huffington Post, The Guardian

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