TOKYO: Workers in Japan yesterday began scrapping a large fishing boat that was swept far inland by the 2011 tsunami and became one of the most poignant symbols of the disaster.
A ceremony to bless the ship was held nearby before workers began dismantling the 60-metre (200-foot) vessel, said officials in the city of Kesennuma, which was flattened when huge waves rushed ashore.
The No 18 Kyotoku-maru had become a much-visited site in the city, and a place to pay homage to some of the more-than 18,000 people who perished.
Some in the local community had wanted to preserve the ship as a monument, but others found it was a painful reminder of the horror of March 2011. A recent opinion poll found nearly 70 percent of locals wanted it gone, so officials ordered it be broken up and scrapped.
Television footage showed local people and visitors looking on as construction workers began driving stakes into the ground to erect noise baffles around the vessel.
“I don’t know if it should be scrapped or not. I have mixed feelings,” a female visitor from Hokkaido, northern Japan, told Tokyo Broadcasting System Television.
The work is scheduled to finish by October 19, officials said, while local media reported the raw materials salvaged from the ship will be recycled to part pay the 50m yen ($500,000) dismantling bill. “I personally feel such disaster remains should be preserved so that we can keep our memories of the tsunami alive as a bitter but important lesson,” said Shunsuke Kumagai, an official at the city’s tourist information centre.
“But it can’t be helped as the feeling of a majority of residents is more important than anything else.
“However, there still are many other structures here showing the power of the tsunami. By encouraging visits to such places, we can explain the full extent of the horror of the disaster to many people.”
The information centre now organises a “disaster tour” where survivors take visitors around the area to help them understand what happened and how it is still affecting those whose lives or livelihoods were ruined.
Japan’s Jiji Press news agency quoted the ship’s owner as saying: “I apologise for troubling disaster sufferers with the presence of the ship, but it helped show the dangers of the tsunami.”
The stranded vessel was swept around 500 metres (yards) inland by the tsunami on March 11, 2011, and survived a subsequent fire that engulfed the small city on Japan’s northeast coast.
Since then, the partially charred blue and red vessel has rested in the middle of a residential district, drawing visitors who pray and leave flowers at the site.