04/01/2012 05:19 EDT | Updated 06/01/2012 05:12 EDT

Tsunami 'Ghost Ship' Drifts Toward U.S. Water

VANCOUVER - A large and rusting ghost ship floating aimlessly off the Pacific coast is drifting towards Alaskan waters, setting off a series of tactical steps by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The unmanned 54-metre fishing vessel is at the forefront of tons of debris heading across the Pacific Ocean from last year's massive tsunami in Japan.

The ship is about 150 kilometres west of the northern most tip of Haida Gwaii, or the Queen Charlotte Islands, off British Columbia's coast and appears to be heading north.

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class David Mosley said Sunday the coast guard dropped a data marker on the ship Saturday so they would have a constant, real-time, position on the vessel.

Mosley said the key concern is if the ship moves north west over top of Haida Gwaii and into the body of water that divides Canada and the United States.

"Dixon Entrance ... is a pretty heavily travelled area for cargo ships, fuel ships, even cruise ships in the summer, so we have to be aware of what the overall danger is to the maritime traffic as well as the maritime environment," he said.

"It has the potential to be a hazard, especially with the unknown of what's on board, the direction that the vessel could be travel."

The vessel was swept out to sea along with an island of other debris when the tsunami hit Japan after the magnitude-9 earthquake struck last March.

Officials say the boat is a former squid fishing vessel that was based out of Hokkaido, Japan. It was located in the Oshawa Seamount area.

At first officials thought the ship was bound for Canadian waters, but Mosley said it now appears to be on a northerly course towards Alaska.

"All that superstructure up above the water line acts like a sail on a sailboat. If it's a good northerly wind, it will push it," he said. "Depending on the direction it goes, that's the window of time we have to respond to operate and ensure the safety of commercial vessels and the environment."

Mosley said a U.S. Coast Guard cutter would be sent out this week to assess the condition of the vessel.

"So we're looking at — do we work with other government agencies to go out and just sink it while it's still well off shore, or do we need to arrange to have a vessel come out and take it into tow and dispose of it in a way other than just going out and scuttling it. Those are all different things we have to look at."

In Canada, several government departments are watching the drifting vessel including Transport, Environment, Fisheries, Public Safety and National Defence.

A Transport Canada spokeswoman said marine currents and winds could make the vessel's destination very unpredictable and a warning has been issued to mariners to watch for the potential hazard.

"We will ensure that it does not wash ashore on the Canadian coast," Sau Sau Liu said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the ship was named the Oshawa Seamount. This version has been updated.

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