Refloating Japan: Sea return for big ships stranded by tsunami
IT IS a Herculean task - to return to the sea more than a dozen ships thrown inland by Japan's tsunami in March.
The vessels sit with red bellies and exposed propellors among the demolished homes of the once-bustling town of Kesennuma in Miyagi province, in the north-east area worst hit by the tidal wave.
So huge are the ships that moving them back to the sea has not been attempted in more than three months. Many have been propped up with metal beams so they won't fall over.
Now ship owners have banded together to jointly negotiate a contract with a logistics company to move five of the vessels in a deal insurers have agreed to cover. Even with a group discount it will cost around 620,000 to move each ship.
But putting them back into action is crucial to restarting Kesennuma's fish markets. "This is a fishing town, so if the ships get moving and start catching fish again, we're hopeful that might lead to things picking up here," said Keiko Onodera, 67, whose hillside house overlooking the port survived the tsunami, which reached her doorstep.
All told, authorities estimate 17 ships weighing more than 20 tonnes and another 1,000 smaller fishing boats were swept onto land around town. Some of the bigger ships washed further inshore will be cut up for scrap, but vessels closer to the sea with little damage are being rescued.
Earlier this week, two towering cranes hoisted the 400-tonne Akane Maru No?1, a deep-sea fishing boat, about 30 feet off the ground from where it had been tossed by the wave.
The cranes gently lowered it onto a huge trolley in primary colours that looks like a super-sized Lego creation. It was the start of what would be a three-day operation organised by Penta-Ocean Construction.
The 192-tyre trolley - normally used for transporting equipment such as train carriages - then slowly rolled toward the quay. Yesterday, the cranes lifted the boat up and into the water.
After some repairs, the Akane Maru No?1 should be ready to start fishing in August, ship owner Hirohito Ikeda said.
"The tsunami inflicted great damage on this seaport, and the ships that were swept on to the land showed the tsunami's ferocity and strength," he said. "But now that our boat is being rescued … we hope it can encourage people to press on."
It will cost around 3.5m to return the Akane Maru and four other ships about a quarter of a mile from the port to the sea. Negotiations on the contract took months.
Mr Ikeda added: "We've barely made progress getting back on our feet the past three months. It really seems slow. But we really don't want people to forget about Kesennuma."
The town has a deep harbour protected by a large island that absorbed the initial onslaught of the wave on 11 March, but the wave poured over its seawalls, sweeping ships into the town, past warehouses and shops, before flowing swiftly back out with debris and parts of houses in tow as black smoke billowed from fires that broke out from wrecked homes.
It left 1,433 dead and missing in Kesennuma alone.
Mika Komatsu, 32, lives in the second floor of her damaged house. The tsunami wrecked the first floor. She and her mother watched one of the ship rescues for hours until it was complete.
She said: "It's good … a start at getting things back to normal."
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North