CDEX Web Magazine 地球発見

For the Future:An Interview with Captain Yuji Onda

The CHIKYU was in port at Hachinohe, Aomori, with 48 visiting elementary school students aboard when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. The resulting tsunami was over 8 meters high and engulfed her in a swirling torrent of muddy, debris-laden water. Fortunately, all hands escaped unharmed, and damage to the hull was kept to a minimum. Below, Captain Yuji Onda describes what transpired on the vessel that day.
(Published in March 2012)

Courage to Make the Right Decision

 At the time of the earthquake, I was in the Captain's ready room. The ship heaved up and down, much more so than during the quake we had experienced two days prior. I rushed to the bridge to check the surrounding conditions and noticed black and white smoke emanating from a nearby factory. I reassured the visiting elementary school students—some of whom were quite scared by the shaking—that "as long as you're aboard this ship, you'll be fine."

 The quake was less of a threat to the ship than the tsunami that followed. After initial warnings predicted a 1 meter tsunami, I judged it would be a danger to the ship. I immediately suspended loading operations and ordered all personnel aboard. At the time I was relatively relaxed because I expected the ship to safely withstand the tsunami, even while moored at the dock.

 However, at 15:30 the forecast height of the approaching tsunami was revised to 8 meters. At that level, the ship could be thrown upon the seawall and heavily damaged. I wanted to leave port for open water as soon as possible, but this typically requires about 40 minutes. Not enough time remained to escape ahead of the leading waves.

 What is the best decision? For a brief moment, doubts crept into my mind. Ensuring the safety of ship and crew is the highest priority for the captain of any vessel, but the CHIKYU is tasked with a unique mission and a tight expedition schedule. The stress of making a decision was enormous because there is simply no substitute for the CHIKYU in earth exploration.

Water pouring over the Hachinohe seawall

Water pouring over the Hachinohe seawall

  Water pouring over the Hachinohe seawall

The ship's track during the tsunami