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Nagoya authorities are worried that the more than 100 abandoned boats in its port pose a potential hazard to navigation — as well as a danger to the general public — if a major tsunami were to strike.

By law, owners are responsible for disposing of their own boats, but in light of the approaching fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Nagoya Port Authority has decided “this is a problem that needs to be addressed now.”

In the Mino River, which runs through reclaimed land near its mouth, hundreds of boats are docked at private piers.

A closer look reveals that some of these vessels are rotting away because they have been left in the water and not maintained.

“In some cases, the owners have even scraped the registration number off their boats” before abandoning them, said Masaomi Egami, who has been assigned by the Nagoya Port Authority to investigate the problem.

A thorough investigation in September found 108 abandoned vessels in seven locations within the port. The owners of most of them remain unknown.

A majority of the boats are around 15 meters long and weigh less than 20 tons.

Experts believe they date from the economic boom from the 1960s to the 1980s, when leisure motor boats and fishing boats gained popularity.

Some of the vessels appear as though they haven’t been used in more than 10 years.

The Marine Pollution Prevention Law stipulates that owners are responsible for the disposal of their boats and that violators can be punished.

Last year, the Japan Coast Guard turned over to the public prosecutor’s office documents pertaining to 12 owners who failed to respond to requests to dispose of their boats, seeking immediate action.

However, the Coast Guard is powerless if a vessel’s owner can’t be identified.

The government is also left in a quandary because it would cost taxpayers an estimated ¥100 million to dispose of the port’s discarded vessels, but inaction would suggest officials condone the illegal abandonment of the boats.

The tsunami disaster in 2011 and the extensive damage left in its wake served as a wake-up call for the Nagoya Port Authority, which finally decided to address the danger posed by these boats.

If a tsunami were to strike the coast and wash the vessels ashore, they could cause significant damage.

Professor Yu Hiroi from the disaster mitigation research center at Nagoya University points out the danger to houses and other structures, and notes that the boats also pose a fire hazard.

“Most houses in the area are constructed of wood. Usually, even if the waves rise high enough to cover the first floor, people can still escape by taking refuge on the second floor. But loose boats can destroy these buildings and kill the people inside,” he said.

In addition, many of the old vessels are made of combustible materials, which increases the risk of spreading fire.

“Most of the boats use reinforced plastic or wood. If there is any fuel left in their tanks, it is very easy for the boats to catch fire,” Hiroi said.

A boat can remain afloat for a long time even as it burns. This increases the risk of spreading the fire to other objects it touches.

This occurred during the Great East Japan Earthquake. A boat docked in the port of Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, caught fire and the blaze almost spread to the city center.

“The safety of the people will be in jeopardy if these heavy boats were carried ashore by tsunami. It is not our job to clear them out, but we can’t ignore this problem any longer,” said the port authority’s Egami.

The disposal work is set to start in early March. Eleven boats at Kinjo Wharf and the Mino River will be removed by the end of the month at an estimated total cost of ¥27 million.

The rest are to be removed gradually during fiscal 2015.

Abandoned boats are a nationwide problem. In 2010, the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry reported 8,545 abandoned boats across the country.

The first prefecture to realize this danger and tackle the issue was Kochi, which is acutely aware of the tsunami danger it faces should a large earthquake occur in the Nankai Trough off the Pacific coast.

The prefecture has spent about ¥27 million over the past three years removing 90 boats from small fishing ports. Officials plan to dispose of about 60 more from large harbors, including Kochi port and other major coastal areas, starting in fiscal 2015.”We prioritized fishing ports where there are many houses nearby. Our goal is to make our entire coastline safe within the next three years,” said an official in Kochi Prefecture’s ports and harbors division.

Nagoya port is an international trading hub that includes the cities of Nagoya, Tokai, Chita and Yatomi as well as the village of Tobishima.

Driven by the strong presence of manufacturing firms in the area, particularly the automobile industry, it has been the most profitable harbor in Japan for 17 consecutive years. In 2014 it earned a trade surplus of more than ¥5.6 trillion.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Feb. 26.

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