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Japanese fishing boat swept away in 2011 tsunami disaster finds new life in B.C.

Tim McGrady, of Spirit Bear Adventures, stands aboard an old fishing boat believed to have made the trip across the Pacific after the 2011 tsunami in this undated handout photo. The boat, renamed Japanese Drifter, is being repurposed to shuttle tourists on bear-watching adventures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ HO, Spirit Bear Adventures

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Tim McGrady, of Spirit Bear Adventures, stands aboard an old fishing boat believed to have made the trip across the Pacific after the 2011 tsunami in this undated handout photo. The boat, renamed Japanese Drifter, is being repurposed to shuttle tourists on bear-watching adventures. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ HO, Spirit Bear Adventures

KLEMTU, B.C. - A Japanese fishing vessel believed to be cast adrift in the 2011 tsunami disaster will soon find a new life as a tour boat exploring British Columbia's shores.

The eight-metre-long craft was discovered in March 2013 washed ashore near Klemtu, on B.C.'s North Coast, and has since been repaired for launch into the tourism industry this month.

Tim McGrady, the general manager of Spirit Bear Adventures, said they will use the vessel on tours of the Great Bear Rainforest, about 700 kilometres northwest of Vancouver.

The boat, which has been renamed Japanese Drifter, was found with kanji markings and an intact engine, leading salvagers to believe it was washed away during the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed as many as 19,000 people.

The disaster also triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

McGrady, 49, said it's probable the boat was swept away during the disaster because it's rare for vessels with intact engines to be cast a drift unless they are washed away by waves.

"It would be one thing if the boat was just found as an empty shell, but the boat was found with its engine on it," said McGrady "It clearly was functioning at some point before it left the harbour."

"For the boat to drift away like that with the engine intact — it would be very unusual for that to happen on its own," he said. "It would've had to have been a catastrophic departure of the boat."

McGrady said they were unsuccessful at finding the owner and realized it would be too expensive to return the boat even if they did find its rightful keeper.

He's still hopeful he'll be able to connect with the original owner and said he thinks the owner would be proud to know his boat has found a new life.

"There's this really deep, profound connection with a man and his boat," McGrady said. "When a man parts from his boat it's a serious event."

"We would like to reach out and say, 'Hey we found your boat,'" he said. "We want you to know that we're looking after it, and we're putting it to good use and we would just like you to see that."

The boat is about the length and width of two Honda Accords placed together from front to back and has been outfitted with a new engine.

The fibreglass vessel was likely used for shoreline fishing because of its small size, McGrady said.

Aside from routine repairs, the boat will not be changed from its original state.

Kanji that was etched on the craft will remain, and no paint will be added, McGrady said.

"We're going to try and keep it pretty much just as it is," he said.

The vessel also has holes that cast off water entering the boat.

This design was probably the reason it was able to make the trip from Japan to B.C., McGrady said.

Spirit Bear Adventures takes many of its guests on bear-viewing tours, but McGrady believes this craft could specialize in wolf-spotting trips in a hard-to-reach watershed in the Klemtu area.

Staff of Spirit Bear Lodge have posted images of the vessel on social media sites and have asked anyone who might know its original owner to come forward.

Progress has been slow, McGrady said, but one woman from Japan has contacted the tour group on Facebook and said she would try to help locate the owner.

"Finding that original owner can be a really magical thing and can establish a really magical connection between that person and this community," McGrady said.

The Japanese government estimates 1.5 million tonnes of debris were swept into the Pacific Ocean when the tsunami struck.

Heavier items sank close to Japanese shores while lighter debris was widely dispersed by ocean currents and winds, often forming clusters in the Pacific.

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