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Unmanned tsunami boat takes three years to reach Taiwan

by Focus Taiwan/Sail-World Cruising on 5 Mar 2014
Boat positively identified as a vessel from the Japanese region hardest hit by the tsunami SW
If ever you wanted proof that the currents of the North Pacific gyre exists, this must persuade you. An unmanned Japanese boat has swirled around the Pacific for three years before beaching itself in Taiwan. The massive tsunami that struck northeastern Japan three years ago dragged the small blue into the sea to be caught by the massive gyre.

The little boat missed all the islands in the Pacific, missed North America where many other boats turned up for a couple of years after the tsunami, and just kept drifting.

Now, an incredible three years after the tragedy of the tsunami in March 2011, the little battered boat was found overturned on the shore of Daren Township, Taitung County. Wang Yao-tsung, a coast guard official stationed in the eastern county, said Monday that he was amazed at the discovery, describing it as 'something out of a sci-fi story.'

Wang said he initially suspected the boat had been used to illegally land in Taiwan, but a military unit he asked to find further information determined the boat, MG3-44187, came from Kesennuma City in Miyagi Prefecture, one of the areas hit hardest by the earthquake and tsunami.

How exactly the empty vessel ended up 2,700 kilometers southwest on a beach in Taitung is unknown, but it likely took the long route over the years -- and may have first visited the western United States.

Hu Jian-hwa, a professor at National Taiwan Ocean University, proposed the detail of possible routes the boat could have drifted, with the longer logging close to 10,000nm, in the various named currents of the Pacific.

On that odyssey, the boat would have been carried to the northwestern coast of the U.S. before being picked up by the California Current to the equator, where it met with the Kuroshio Current that pulled it north to Taitung.

A shorter route of about 5,000nm would involve the boat being carried on whirlpools to the equator before hitching a ride on the Kuroshio Current.

However, these possible solutions raise further questions. Why is the boat not more covered in molluscs? Did it spend some of the time on a reef only to be washed off by the next storm? The boat is not telling, but there is no doubt about its origin.

One thing is sure. As past sailors can attest, if you abandon your sailing boat for a lifeboat in the Pacific you can drift for a very long time without finding a shore.

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