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9 ships dragged anchor, others were outside evacuation area during typhoon

The tanker, center, that smashed into the bridge to Kansai International Airport is seen being towed through the Akashi Strait near the airport on Sept. 7, 2018. (Mainichi)

Typhoon Jebi's violent winds likely caused nine ships to drift despite being anchored, including the tanker that crashed into the bridge to Kansai International Airport, the Fifth Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, has told the Mainichi Shimbun.

The 2,591-ton tanker Houn Maru, which collided with the only bridge connecting the airport on an artificial island to the mainland, was anchored outside of the evacuation area where ships are recommended to stay during a storm, along with several other ships. The coast guard is investigating if there were any problems in the way the ship was handled during the typhoon.

According to coast guard officials and other people, the Houn Maru smashed into the bridge around 1 p.m. on Sept. 4. The tanker was one of the nine ships that were dragging anchor at that time, and the coast guard had warned them of their status via maritime telephone. The ships were among some 50 vessels that were moored in the surrounding area at the time of the storm. Only the Houn Maru ended up causing an accident.

The coast guard suggests shipping companies anchor ships 5.5 kilometers or more from the seawalls of Kansai airport to prevent collisions due to vessels dragging anchor. However, a captain has the right to make the final decision, as the guideline is not legally-binding. Houn Maru was anchored 1.6 kilometers southeast of the seawalls, and there were other ships nearby.

According to Tokyo-based Tsurumi Sunmarine Co., the operator of the Houn Maru, the wind gauge installed in the tanker exceeded the maximum 60 meters per second before the collision. The tanker had been swept about 2 kilometers north from where it had been anchored, and the ship was traveling against the wind at full power when it rammed into the bridge. The coast guard is questioning the captain about the circumstances at the time, such as measures taken to avoid the crash.

A Tsurumi Sunmarine official explained that the captain "thought it would be easy to take shelter from the wind and lay anchor in the clay soil near Kansai airport" where the anchor could be stabilized in the shallow water, rather than running the risk of going out to areas more than 5.5 kilometers off the coast during the powerful storm.

(Japanese original by Hayaki Takeda, Osaka City News Department)

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