Scientists track unusual voyage of fishing boat that ran aground

Posted: Monday, December 30, 2002

ANCHORAGE - An abandoned fishing vessel that ran aground on Afognak Island near Kodiak in early November took an unusual five-month journey across the Pacific Ocean, traveling much faster and farther north than expected, say two scientists who study marine currents.

"This drift was quite a revelation," Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle oceanographer, told the Anchorage Daily News. Ebbesmeyer has used spills of oceangoing freight - spilled rubber ducks, Legos, hockey gloves, sneakers and logs - to track currents.

"We thought it would head pretty much due east or perhaps miss North America and loop on down to Hawaii," he said.

The voyage of the Japanese squid catcher Genei Maru No. 7 may "be the first alert of an extreme year in climate of the eastern North Pacific Ocean," added Jim Ingraham, a physical oceanographer with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. "I was surprised that the drift was so fast and so far north."

The 97-foot Genei Maru No. 7 began its trans-oceanic trip May 27, when it caught fire and was abandoned in squid grounds about halfway between North America and Japan. The owners reported the boat had probably sunk. But the Genei Maru stayed afloat and was last sighted in early October about 400 miles off Queen Charlotte Islands south of Ketchikan.

The vessel was next discovered hundreds of miles to the northwest on Nov. 10. It had run aground at Cape Kazakof, about 25 miles from Kodiak.

Over the next three weeks, cleanup crews removed more than 13,000 gallons of fuel and other hazardous liquids and 50 cubic yards of solid waste, the U.S. Coast Guard reported. The hulk remains on the beach pending a salvage plan by its owner, KK Yamatsu Inichi Shoten, and its insurance company.

To figure out how the wreck ended up near Kodiak instead of in the Pacific Northwest, Ingraham plugged Genei Maru's four known positions into a sophisticated computer program that simulates how objects drift at sea. The calculations account for weather data, wind behavior and currents.

The result showed the wreck traveling on an unexpected track - driven almost twice as fast as, say, a hockey glove would be, by the same winds that brought unseasonable warmth to Southcentral Alaska all fall. Only twice in the past 36 years would the boat have traveled along a similar course, Ebbesmeyer said.

"Sticking high out of the water, the Genei Maru acted like sail, which was pushed along by the wind," Ingraham said.

Ebbesmeyer planned to publish a map of the vessel's path in the January edition of Beachcombers' Alert, a newsletter that reports on drifting objects and where they wash ashore.

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