Tsunami powered ghost ship closes in on Canadian shores

When last year’s earthquake and resulting tsunami rocked Japan, the destruction of property and disruption to travel plans were immediate. Minor quakes after the initial tremor did little more damage. But a Japanese squid-fishing boat has been drifting across the Pacific Ocean all year and is now closing in on British Columbia’s north coast.

“It’s been drifting across the Pacific for a year, so it’s pretty beat up,” said marine search coordinator Jeff Olsson of Victoria’s Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in a Times Colonist article.

The 150-foot tsunami ghost ship was sent out to sea by the weather event and first found drifting right-side-up about 140 nautical miles (260 km) from Cape Saint James on the southern tip of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago on the North Coast of British Columbia. A Canadian Coast Guard plane on a routine surveillance patrol spotted the ship on March 20, causing them to issue a warning to all vessels that the ship is an obstruction to navigation.

“The ghost ship is probably going to be pretty much worthless – nobody’s going to want to have anything to do with it because of the huge costs that are going to be incurred [towing it to shore],” said Gray, senior captain with the Vessel Assist towing company reports the Times Colonist, adding “All that garbage, it’s going to hit Alaska, it’s going to hit B.C. and it’s going to hit Washington.”

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Flickr photo by elmas156

Students travel to Japan, help recovery efforts

Travel to Japan was disrupted last year when a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11. The disaster brought an alarming death toll, fear of nuclear explosion and travel alerts cancelling hundreds of flights and stranding tens of thousands of travelers. But that disaster also elicited enormous response from people all over the world who pledged their help to the affected area. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, recovery is well under way but there is a lot of work to be done. One of the organizations helping in the effort has students traveling to Japan for an immersive foreign travel experience like no other.

People to People Ambassador Group will be sending over 100 students to Japan in July for the first time since the devastation. These students were so committed to traveling to Japan that they’ve waited a full year to be able to make this trip.

People to People’s Spirit of Japan program puts student ambassadors in the heart of Japan, on an immersive itinerary that provides an immersion in a rural Japanese community where students will work at local schools and farms in the ravaged Tohoku area. The idea is to lend a hand to a host community, providing much needed help doing everything from assisting farmers in clearing their fields to teaching local students English. Working side by side with local citizens during a home stay with a Japanese family is part of the experience as participants offer up close and personal time with those actually affected by the natural disaster.

It is all part of People to People’s mission to get students involved and raise their global awareness with immersive experiential learning through travel.”In our interconnected world, we cannot be isolated-our decisions have an impact on other people, sometimes even those who live half a world away. Global citizens are people who accept a responsibility to others in their local and global community,” says People to People on its website.

Conditions in the affected area were so bad last year that it was unsafe for People to People groups to travel there. Both Narita (NRT) and Haneda airports (HND) which handle international and domestic flights for Tokyo were closed; leaving 14,000 passengers stranded. Sendai airport (SDJ), 300 kilometers to the north, was virtually destroyed by the tsunami.

Many travelers around the world felt the effect of Japan’s airport failures combined with a huge increase in demand for flights into Japan that had a cascading effect on travel. Airports from Canada to London saw delayed flights as the U.S. issued a travel alert urging U.S. citizens to avoid tourism and non-essential travel to Japan.

Here, some of the survivors look back-

Image provided by People to People

The effect of Japan’s tsunami on whaling

In an ironic twist of fate, Japan’s recent tsunami may have accomplished something conservationists have been fervently attempting for years: Driving a final nail into its pro-active whaling communities.

The first outsiders only recently reached the small town of Ayukawahama, which was crushed by thirty-foot waves. So was the headquarters of the biggest business in town, Ayukawa Whaling, one of the country’s most prodigious hunters of big whales.

The waves rushed six hundred feet inland, wiping out 80 percent of the town’s 700 homes. Four hundred of its 1,400 residents are missing, assumed dead. The peninsula town is described as having been reduced to “an expanse of splintered wood and twisted cars.”

In these days two weeks after the natural disaster the impact on the whaling town carries a kind of finality. Ayukawa lives off whaling. It is one of just four communities in Japan home to small fleets that twice a year hunt whales in waters close to Japan, differentiating them from the fleet that heads to the Southern Ocean each November.

“There is no Ayukawa without whaling,” said a 27-year-old whaler.The four boats of Ayukawa Whaling were sucked out to sea by the retreating tsunami waves, thrown back onto shore a mile down the coastline. The company’s 28 employees ran for the hills. All survived but have now been laid off.

The company’s chairman told the New York Times that while he hoped to rebuild the factory, refloat the company’s boats and get back to hunting whales, he admitted it wouldn’t be any time soon. It will take months and lots of money to pull his boats back onto the sea; his processing plant for whale meat was reduced to splinters.

Nearby the daughter of a 54-year-old woman scavenging for food found a tin of whale meat among the debris. “I wish we could eat whale meat every day,” said the 17-year-old. “But the whalers are so old, I think they’ll just quit or retire after what has happened.

“I think whaling is dead here.”

During the height of the Southern Ocean campaign which usually runs from November to March, many news stories can make it seem like whale hunting – and whale meat eating — is a passion for all Japanese. The reality is that Japan does not thrive on whale meat and there are increasingly fewer companies engaged in whale hunting.

Despite the success of the Sea Shepherd’s this past season – its successful harassment forcing the Japanese to end its season early and reducing its take by some 75 percent, to less than 200 whales – the tsunami waves may ultimately get credit for stopping the hunt.

If you follow the exploits of Sea Shepherd and its outspoken leader, Captain Paul Watson, you’d think they might be celebrating aboard its mother ship, the “Steve Irwin.” But Watson’s public reaction has been appropriately muted:

“Nature does not play favorites and just as the earthquake struck New Zealand recently, the fires ravaged Australia two years ago, and the tsunami struck India and Thailand not so very long ago, the message is clear — we all share the dangers of living on the water planet called earth,” he wrote.

“In the face of such peril from the forces of nature, we are all equal.

I have heard many people say that Japan’s tragedy is karma. People who say such things do not understand the concept of karma. This earthquake struck Japan purely on the basis of geography and geology.”

In another twist, the Japanese factory processing ship “Nisshin Maru,” which the Shepherd’s had hounded back to port a month early, is being used by the Japanese government to deliver aid supplies (charcoal, 100,000 noodle cups, kerosene, cranes) to the hard-hit north.

“Sea Shepherd believes that the ‘Nisshin Maru’ should be permanently converted into a humanitarian aid vessel,” suggested its website.

But the Japanese have rebuilt from the dust before and started over, with great success. One Ayukawa whaler was quoted two days after the tsunami: “As long as there are people who will carry on whaling in the absence of vessels or facilities, whaling could be revived … eventually.”

Caribbean Tsunami test hopes to save lives

It was planned long before the earthquake-turned-tsunami event in Japan to test the readiness of 33 Caribbean countries in the region’s first full-scale tsunami warning exercise. On Wednesday, March 23, a fictitious earthquake of 7.6 magnitude occurred off the coast of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Bulletins were issued by the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island and by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii for the rest of the area and the test was underway.

The Caribbean tsunami test, named Caribe Wave 11 did not involve communities but aimed to test the effectiveness of alert, monitoring and warning systems among all the emergency management organizations throughout the region. The test was designed to determine whether Caribbean countries are ready to respond in the event of a dangerous tsunami. Results will be reported in April.

“The earthquake and tsunami that have devastated Japan have shown how essential alert systems are,” said Irina Bokova, UNESCO’s director general.

The countries that attended the tsunami alert exercise are: Aruba, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France (Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin, Guyane), Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands (Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Curacao and Sint Marteen), Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom (Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos), and the United States.

Over the past 500 years, there have been 75 tsunamis in the Caribbean, which is about 10 percent of the world total during that period, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Tsunamis caused by earthquakes, landslides or volcanoes have caused 3,5000 deaths in the region since the mid-1800s

Flickr photo by Axion23

Hawaii back in business, just how much uncertain

After last week’s tsunami event and resulting disruptions kept tourists, hotels and a cruise ship from normal island life, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie declared all “back in business” after a tour of the Big island and Maui.

“We can come back quick,” Abercrombie said during a day-long inspection of the islands adding “We’re back in business. I don’t want information getting out to the mainland that we’re not open for business or that Hawaii is shut off.”
Hotels are open and have plenty of tourists. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America returned after canceling last week’s call in Kailua-Kona on the island’s the west coast. Flights in and out of the islands are posting few delays. Still, while tourism is back in full swing, just how much there will be is uncertain.

Ongoing disruption of all things normal in Japan is a big concern in Hawaii. Japan is second only to the U.S. mainland in the number of visitors each year.

“It’s a safe and wonderful place to visit. If all goes well, and that remains to be seen of course, but if all goes well we do think we can come through this in a matter or weeks and not months,” said Lt. Governor Brian Schatz,

“In California, too, right now, we’re seeing some cancelations. But at the same time when people start to realize there isn’t much of a danger in coming to Hawaii, we may see the snap back in tourism,” said University of Hawaii at Manoa Economics professor Sumner LaCroix to KITV.com