Japanese boat owner found

  • Nov. 7, 2014 6:00 a.m.

A Highlander Marine Services crew discovered some tsunami debris with an interesting history while working in Gwaii Haanas on Oct. 27.”We were coming on the inside pass to get out of the swell so we saw it just by chance,” said Captain Trent Moraes. “Even from a distance I could tell it was the shape of a boat hull.”The overturned boat was washed up on a beach on the northwest side of Huxley Island, said Mr. Moraes. It looked like it had been floating for a while and had Japanese writing on its bow and stern. He said the crew recovered the boat within 15 minutes and removed it from Gwaii Haanas.Highlander Marine Services has made strong connections with several Japanese agencies over the last three years, said Mr. Moraes, and was able to call on these contacts for help in identifying the vessel’s owner.One such contact is Moe Fukui, a Public Relations Project Specialist of the University of Tokyo’s Earthquake Research Institute. She and marine seismologist Dr. Tomoaki Yamada travelled to Haida Gwaii in August to recover an underwater seismometer that Mr. Moraes found drifting in the waters west of Graham Island.”Can you read what it says on the side and do you know how we might trace its origins? Any helpful information you can provide would be great,” wrote Danny Robertson, owner of Highlander Marine Services, in an e-mail to Ms. Fukui with photos of the boat.At first glance, she was able to tell it originated in Miyagi prefecture, an area in northeast Japan hit hardest by the 2011 tsunami. Ms. Fukui said she was happy to help in any way she could, but feared the devastation in that area made the possibility of finding the owner minimal.”This information is both intriguing and saddening as the history of this boat reminds us all of the human element of the disaster,” wrote Mr. Robertson in a reply. “Even though it’s a remote possibility it might still be worth the effort to trace the owner as it’s a big part of this fascinating story. It will be good to know who the owner is if they survived the disaster, or who they were if they did not, and what their history is.”By the morning of Oct. 31, Ms. Fukui responded with great news.The boat owner, 73-year-old fisherman Nobufusa Okajima, is alive and in Ishinomaki city, where more than 3,000 residents died and nearly 3,000 remain missing in the wake of the tsunami.”Fortunately, his home was on top of the mountain, so (he) was safe. Many people came up the mountain for evacuation but he lost some of his friends who were living by the coast,” wrote Ms. Fukui. “Most of the fishermen around him lost their boat and, as far as he knows, this is the only case to hear that the boat was found.”His boat was on shore to be repaired and painted when the tsunami hit and it was swept away. Today, he still fishes for salmon and sometimes flounder in a boat that is similar to the one found on Haida Gwaii, she said, and was interested to know if the people who found it were fishermen as well.Ms. Fukui said she tried to explain to Mr. Okajima where Haida Gwaii is and told him it’s an island surrounded by the ocean like Japan where people also fish for salmon.He was very appreciative that Highlander Marine Services reached out to let him know about his boat and thanked everyone involved.”It’s pretty cool,” said Mr. Moraes, “We’re so glad he’s alive and well.”They aren’t certain what they’re going to do with the boat yet, he said, but they’re entertaining several different options and working closely with their contacts in Japan.Before the Highlander Marine crew spotted and recovered the boat, Mr. Moraes said several people noticed it but didn’t act, probably because their vessel wasn’t equipped to deal with it. “It’s pretty important that if people find something significant, they report it and contact the debris committee,” he said. “Highlander is all over these waters and our boat is designed for this line of work.”If tsunami debris is found, the Haida Gwaii debris committee asks people to take photos and record the date, time, location and a description to report to the Village of Queen Charlotte at 559-4765.

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