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Japanese Tsunami 2011

Japanese town votes to scrap fishing boat marooned by tsunami

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 August, 2013, 1:30am

A stranded fishing boat that became a symbol of the devastation of Japan's 2011 tsunami has long divided a northeastern coastal city - between those who wanted to keep it as a monument of survival and those who wanted a painful reminder gone.

Last week, the city announced it will be dismantled after a heated debate and citywide vote. The soul-searching over the ship highlights how the aftermath of the tsunami disaster continues to torment Japan two years later.

The 330-tonne Kyotoku-maru was swept from the city's dock for about 750 metres into a residential district.

It has become a landmark for Kesennuma, a port city of 70,000 people, and a testament to the destructive power of the tsunami set off by the magnitude-nine earthquake on March 11, 2011, which killed nearly 19,000 people.

Smashed buildings and debris were cleared, but the 60-metre tuna-fishing boat has stood, majestic but oddly jarring, on dry ground for more than two years.

Opinion on the ship had been so divided it had been put to a vote by the city residents last month. Of the 14,083 responses, 68 per cent, or 9,622 people, voted to have the ship destroyed. Only 16 per cent voted to keep it.

Yoshimi Abe, a 72-year-old housewife and Kesennuma resident, was among those who wanted to get rid of the ship. It's just a constant reminder of the terrible disaster," she said. "When I walk by it every morning, my heart aches."

In contrast, Shigeru Saito, 80, voted to keep the boat, which he saw as a plus for drawing business. "My son owns a store in the temporary market near Kyotokumaru. Many of his customers are out-of-town visitors who drop by to see the ship," he said.

The Fukushima fishing company, which owns the Kyotokumaru, has signed a contract with a non-profit organisation that recycles ships. The dismantling is likely to start in the next few weeks.

Kesennuma Mayor Shigeru Sugawara was disappointed the landmark would soon be gone. "I wanted to leave a visible symbol of what happened here for generations to come," he said.