Federal officials said Thursday that the small fishing boat found in Crescent City earlier this month is the first debris to land in California that can be definitely linked to the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan.
The boat washed ashore less than a mile from Crescent City Harbor, which is currently completing a $55 million reconstruction project after the same March 2011 tsunami destroyed its docks.
Out of more than 1,600 potential tsunami debris items reported to federal officials, only 27, including this boat, have been positively linked to the Japanese tsunami.
The 20-foot panga boat was owned by Takata High School in Rikuzentakata, a 23,000-person fishing town in Iwate prefecture that was decimated by 50- to 65-foot tsunami surges. More than 10 percent of the town’s residents were killed and every building was destroyed, including the high school. The school’s concrete structure was still standing, but it was later leveled per the city’s decision to raze any building where someone died. The school lost dozens of students and some teachers.
Takata High School used the vessel for its marine sciences program where students learn how to harvest marine life like oysters, clams and seaweed. The city had a strong aquaculture economy.
Floating concrete docks linked to the Japan tsunami have came ashore in Newport, Ore., and in Washington’s Olympic National Park. A Harley Davidson motorcycle in a foam-lined shipping container landed in British Columbia. A soccer ball found in Alaska was the first and only other item linked to Rikuzentakata, using a child’s name written on the ball.
The vessel was unofficially linked to Takata High School just days after landing in Crescent City after HSU geologist Lori Dengler posted pictures of the alien-like gooseneck barnacle-covered boat to Rikuzentakata’s Facebook page. Dengler had recognized that Japanese characters on the boat said “Rikuzentatakata,” a city she had visited shortly after the disaster as part of her world-wide research into earthquakes and tsunamis, and humans’ responses to them.
Shortly after posting the pictures, a teacher from the high school confirmed that the boat belonged to the school.
“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 this up moments,’” said Amya Miller, the city’s global public relations officer, after first hearing of the connection, in an earlier interview with the Triplicate. “Right now everyone is in sort of a giddy state of shock.”
Officials from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration waited to confirm the vessel’s origin until it was verified on Thursday through the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco.
Rikuzentakata city officials said that the high school and the city would like to have the boat back.
“Having it back I know would be incredibly meaningful only because the school lost so much — the city lost so much,” Miller said in early April.
Del Norte County officials have been inquiring as to the logistics of making that happen.
The boat currently sits in the back parking lot of the Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office, which first recovered the boat from a group of men who were attempting to salvage it from the beach.
Sheriff’s Commander Bill Steven considered taking the lead on finding a way to deliver the boat back to its owners in Japan, when the thought occurred to him: “Why am I doing this? I have a son in high school, and the boat belongs to a high school; this should be a high school project,” Steven said.
“I thought about how much more meaning it would have if it was the high school doing it for another high school,” Steven said.
He asked his 15-year-old son, John Steven, if he would take on the task, and John happily accepted. Next week, John and faculty members from Del Norte High School plan to start working on a plan to return the boat.
For the latest information on tsunami debris, visit: the NOAA Marine Debris webpage about the Japanese tsunami debris at: marinedebris.noaa.gov/tsunamidebris.