NOAA's Marine Debris Blog

Keepin' the Sea Free of Debris!

Tsunamis, Natural Disasters, and Sunken Vessels


Doug Helton is our guest blogger again today. Doug is operations coordinator for NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration Emergency Response Division.

Stranded and damaged yachts, fishing vessels, and even large ships are a common sight after a coastal natural disaster. The recent tsunami that struck American Samoa was no exception. Although the commercial port in Pago Pago Harbor escaped the worst of the damage, the small boat harbor and inner harbor anchorage areas received some of the greatest wave heights. We spoke with some of the locals and heard pretty amazing stories about sailors who found themselves first stranded by the receding waters, having their dock lines snap, and then riding out the waves. One small fishing boat was carried several hundred yards and ended up in the middle of a destroyed building at the head of the harbor. Others ended up on roads or on docks.

Damaged boats picked up and tossed by
the tsunami at the small boat harbor
Tsunami warning sign near our hotel.

Some of the damaged boats were already derelict before the tsunami. People abandon boats for all sorts of reasons, and they often collect in harbor areas. These boats can still have fuel oil and hazardous materials aboard, and when they sink can cause all sorts of environment problems.

This sunken fishing boat caught my attention because
I am from the Pacific Northwest. The more I thought
about it, I thought I had seen this boat before. I went
through my computer files and found another
picture I had taken of it in 2005!

The F/V Northwest in 2005, afloat at the same pier in Pago Pago.

I have been interested in the issue for a number of years, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program have helped to fund some of my research. More information at

Derelict yacht at small boat harbor. This one has
definitely seen better days. Most yachts of this size are
built of fiberglass, but this one has a steel hull and
I think that helped it survive the tsunami.
Notice the tsunami damage to the pier.

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

3 thoughts on “Tsunamis, Natural Disasters, and Sunken Vessels

  1. *sigh*, that’s one thing virtually impossible to protect against – a dreaded tsunami and the inevitable clean up afterwards.

  2. I am going to make a small donation to this program.

    Canvas Art

  3. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I think I will leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

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