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Japan might help tsunami cleanup

Sep 05 2012
One of the more memorable tsunami items to reach the the West Coast is this motorcycle that washed ashore on Haida Gwaii. Its ultimate destination is the Harley-Davidson museum in Wisconsin, where it will be preserved. 

One of the more memorable tsunami items to reach the the West Coast is this motorcycle that washed ashore on Haida Gwaii. Its ultimate destination is the Harley-Davidson museum in Wisconsin, where it will be preserved.

Photograph by: Adrian Lam, Times Colonist , Times Colonist; With Files From The Canadian Press

The Japanese government may help clean up North American shores of debris that was swept into the sea during the 2011 tsunami, said Kinji Shinoda, the Japanese deputy consulate general in Vancouver, on Tuesday.

Ocean current experts say a massive island of material could hit the B.C. coast. Shinoda confirmed that his government would consider offering resources to Canada and the United States.

Coastal communities are worried about the debris field that is expected to reach the shores of B.C., Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California.

"If it does hit - because it might just sit out there for years - but if it does hit, I don't know what you do about it," said John Disney, the economic development officer for the Haida Gwaii community of Old Massett.

"There's no landfill on Earth that's big enough to take it."

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that five million tonnes of debris went into the ocean during the tsunami and nearly one-third stayed afloat. Some material has already arrived and more is on its way, according to NOAA debris modelling.

Japan is not bound by international law to clean up anything that lands on foreign shores, but politicians there want to show they appreciate the support Canada and the U.S. have shown during disaster recovery.

"On the basis of good will, the Japanese people and the Japan government want to try to return the favour," Shinoda said.

"That's why they're seriously considering which kind of assistance they can provide."

Earlier this year, an intergovernmental committee was formed in B.C. to co-ordinate a response to the tsunami debris.

B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake said he welcomes the Japanese government's help.

"We haven't had direct contact with the Japanese government on this topic, but we will be checking in with our Canadian counterparts because they would probably be involved in those kind of negotiations," he said.

Governments of B.C. and Japan have worked together to try to return personal items to their owners.

The Japanese consulate in Vancouver has "been part of our implementation plans because it's important that we have a sensitive response to the personal items that may be found during the cleanup of tsunami debris," Lake said.

The Japanese Environment Ministry estimates that ocean currents will likely bring 40,000 tonnes of debris within 10 kilometres of the North American shore by February.

The Vancouver Aquarium has recruited about 2,000 volunteers to help clean up debris.

The aquarium already conducts shoreline cleanups across the country each year with the World Wildlife Fund.

Tofino Mayor Perry Schmunk called the Japanese government's gesture a "classy move," but said he hoped Canada never has to accept, considering how the Japanese are still recovering from their own devastation. "I hope it doesn't come to the point where we need to call on them for that," he said.

dspalding@timescolonist.com

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