A U.S. Coast Guard cutter poured cannon fire into a Japanese ghost ship that had been drifting since the last year's tsunami, sinking the vessel in the Gulf of Alaska and eliminating the hazard it posed to shipping and the coastline.
The cutter's guns tore holes in the 164-foot Ryou-Un Maru on Thursday, ending its long, lonely journey across the Pacific that began when the deadly tsunami set it floating more than a year ago.
The crew pummeled the ghost ship with high explosive ammunition, and the derelict Ryou-Un Maru soon burst into flames, and began taking on water, officials said.
A huge column of smoke could be seen over the gulf as a Coast Guard C-130 cargo plane, sent to observe the sinking, dropped a buoy to monitor for any possible pollution.
The Coast Guard warned mariners to stay away, and aviation authorities did the same for pilots.
In about four hours, the ship vanished into the water, said Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow in Juneau.
It sank into waters more than 6,000 feet deep, about 180 miles west of the southeast Alaska coast, the Coast Guard said.
Officials decided to sink the ship rather than risk the chance of it running aground or endangering other vessels in the busy shipping lanes between North America and Asia.
The ship had no lights or communications system, and its tank was able to carry more than 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Officials, however, didn't know how much fuel, if any, was aboard.
"It's less risky than it would be running into shore or running into (maritime) traffic," Coast Guard spokesman Paul Webb said.