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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Wanted: good home for old icebreaker


Staff writer

ABOARD THE SHIRASE — Old soldiers may just fade away, but it is a fate far better, some feel, than what awaits the Maritime Self-Defense Force's icebreaker Shirase, which is headed for the scrap heap after 25 years of hard service.

News photo
A crewman aboard the Maritime Self-Defense Force icebreaker Shirase monitors the ship's course Friday near Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge during an exhibition event for guests and press members. JUN HONGO PHOTO

"Personally, I am saddened by the possibility" that the ship may be dismantled, Capt. Takashi Shinagawa, the Shirase's skipper, said Friday during an onboard news conference. The MSDF invited guests and press members for a four-hour excursion aboard the ship from Harumi port in Tokyo to Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

The Shirase, which made the annual trek to the Antarctic for 25 straight years, will be decommissioned in August. The education ministry has so far been unable to find anyone willing to take charge of the ship for public display.

"It is not an easy task to continue maintaining this ship, and we have to face the possibility (that no one will)," Shinagawa said.

Launched in 1982, the 11,600-ton icebreaker returned to Japan earlier this month after completing its final trip to Antarctica. Carrying about 1,200 tons of fuel and supplies for crew members on its annual journey, the icebreaker on three occasions rescued Australian observation ships and a yacht stranded in the Antarctic ice.

"My fondest memory of the Shirase is probably the time I drew up the sea route by myself and successfully arrived at Showa Station," Shinagawa said.

But the wear and tear of the grueling missions has caught up with the 134-meter icebreaker.

While the interior and equipment are relatively free of wear thanks to yearly maintenance, the ship's diesels, boilers and communications systems are "beginning to show signs of exhaustion," one crew member acknowledged.

The MSDF keeps two of its past icebreakers on display, the Soya in Tokyo and the Fuji in Nagoya. Although the city of Wakkanai, Hokkaido, has shown interest in doing the same for the Shirase, no agreement has been reached.

The Shirase's successor, which goes by the same name, was launched Wednesday in Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture. Until it goes into operation in May 2009, Japan will charter Australian ships for its Antarctic expeditions.

"I'm glad that the name Shirase will continue to live on. We will gather the knowledge we obtained on this ship and pass it on," Shinagawa said.



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