A Japanese fishing boat, lost at sea last year after an earthquake and tsunami killed several thousand people, has been spotted off the coast of Vancouver, British Columbia, the authorities said.
The tsunami washed millions of tons of debris into the ocean on March 11, 2011, and this was the first vessel lost during the disaster that appeared so near to the shores of North America.
The boat, a large fishing vessel that did not appear to be carrying any passengers, is about 150 nautical miles from the southern tip of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago near the northern coast of British Columbia, said Sau Sau Liu, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada. It was seen during routine surveillance by a fisheries patrol aircraft on Tuesday, she and other Canadian authorities said.
A photograph provided by Canada’s Department of National Defense showed the white boat adrift on the choppy, blue water, covered in streaks of orange rust.
“The vessel is considered an obstruction to navigation, and a Notice to Shipping has been issued by the Canadian Coast Guard,” Ms. Liu said in a statement, adding, “There are currently no reports of marine pollution from the vessel.”
Ms. Liu also said the owner of the vessel had been made aware of its location and that “close visual aerial inspection and hails to the ship” indicated that no one was onboard.
How quickly the boat reaches shore and where it lands are a “function of the weather, obviously,” said a spokesman for the Joint Rescue Coordination Center of Victoria, British Columbia. “It could end up in Alaska,” he said. “That would make my life easier.”
The spokesman, who did not identify himself, confirmed that retrieving the boat was not considered a high priority since no one appeared to be on board. “The reality is that the ship is 150 miles offshore and not going anywhere quickly,” he said. “It’s been adrift for over a year.”
Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle-based oceanographer, said he hoped the Japanese ship would catch the attention of the authorities at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, who have been predicting that much of the debris from the Japanese tsunami would not arrive on the West Coast of the United States before 2013.
“I’ve been doing my best to say that’s not what I see,” Mr. Ebbesmeyer said, adding that in his experience, similar vessels adrift on the ocean “can move at least 50 miles a day.”
“Just one storm will bring it ashore,” he said. “It could be ashore in two days.”
Last September, according to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, a Russian ship near the Midway Islands spotted another drifting Japanese vessel, a 20-foot boat from Fukushima, one of the areas most affected by last year’s catastrophe.
A spokesman for the United States Coast Guard said it was aware of the fishing vessel off the British Columbia coast but was not planning any action unless the Canadian authorities requested help.