KESENNUMA, Japan — More than a dozen ships heaved inland by Japan's tsunami in March sit with red bellies and propellers exposed among the demolished houses of this once-bustling fishing town, a jarring daily reminder of the ocean's awesome power.
The enormous task and cost of moving these out-of-place vessels — and the debris around them — has kept them stranded in Kesennuma for over three months. Many have been propped up with metal beams so they won't topple over.
Determined to recover, the town has now begun the Herculean job of returning some of the beached ships to the sea. Several ship owners banded together to jointly negotiate a cost with a logistics company to move five of the vessels in a deal that insurers have agreed to cover.
Even after the group rate, the amount per ship is more than $1 million.
But putting these vessels back into action is crucial to restarting Kesennuma's fish markets and restoring the community's economy and confidence.
"This is a fishing town, so if the ships get moving and start catching fish again, we're hopeful that might lead to things picking up here," said Keiko Onodera, 67.
All told, authorities estimate that the tsunami swept 17 ships weighing over 20 tons and another 1,000 smaller fishing boats onto land around town.
This week, two towering cranes hoisted the 400-ton Akane Maru No. 1, a deep-sea fishing boat, about 30 feet off the ground from where it had been tossed by the wave 100 yards from the water.
The cranes gently lowered the ship onto a huge trolley that looks like a super-sized Lego creation. It was the start of what would be a three-day operation organized by Penta-Ocean Construction Co.
The 192-tire trolley — normally used for transporting equipment such as train cars — then slowly rolled toward the wharf. On Friday, the cranes lifted the boat up and into the water.