Friday, April 13, 2012

Rush on to replace tsunami-hit fishing boats

From Daily Yomiuri Online: Rush on to replace tsunami-hit fishing boats
KUMAMOTO--Makers of small boats are rushing to replace the approximately 29,000 fishing boats swept away or damaged beyond repair in last year's tsunami.

Yamaha Motor Co.'s local subsidiary near here is one of the domestic boatbuilders working all out to restore the fishing industry in regions severely hit in the Great East Japan Earthquake last year.

Most of the boats that were lost in the March 11 tsunami were small boats six to nine meters long.

On a recent day at Yamaha Amakusa Manufacturing Co. in Kami-Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, newly manufactured small fishing boats made of fiber-reinforced plastic were removed from molds and lifted by a crane one after another. The finished boats were stacked in frames to await shipment.

Workers distinguish boats to be transported to the disaster-hit regions by painting their decks yellow-green. Yamaha Amakusa employees call them "fukko wasen," which literally means restored Japanese-style boats.

Company President Mitsuharu Tazura, 58, said, "Since July last year, we've been producing 100 fishing boats a month, more than 10 times our usual output."

To cope with the shortage of fishing boats, the Fisheries Agency last summer asked boat manufacturers nationwide to increase production.

Yamaha Motor Co. enjoys an 80 percent share of the domestic market for small fishing boats. It increased its workforce at the Kami-Amakusa subsidiary, its main production base, from 81 to 125 and began seven-day-a-week production. It is operating at almost full capacity, Tazura said.

Yanmar Co., a major boatbuilder based in Osaka, has also increased its production to about 10 times that of usual years, according to a Yanmar spokesperson.

Unlike cars and home electric appliances, fishing boats are manufactured mostly by hand. Only skillful shipwrights are allowed to spray plastic on the boats, which require precise layers 0.1 millimeter thick.

At the Kami-Amakusa factory, former factory chief Ryuzo Kawamoto, 60, visited about 40 retired shipwrights who used to work for the company to ask for their help.

Most of the veteran shipwrights remember when the region was hit by torrential rains that killed more than 100 people in 1972. They therefore willingly agreed to Kawamoto's request to help the disaster-hit region's restoration efforts.

The expanded workforce also includes people who experienced last year's disaster.

One of them is Masayuki Chiba, 48, from Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, who works on the company's painting line.

He had worked at the Ofunato factory of a Yamaha Motor Co. subsidiary until it closed in 2001. After that, he took up other work.

Because one of his relatives lost his fishing boat in the tsunami, Chiba joined the workforce immediately after being offered a job by Yamaha Amakusa Manufacturing.

"I know there are many fishermen who can't catch fish because they don't have boats, although they want to keep fishing. I want to help them," Chiba said.

Kazuo Niinuma, 57, is also a veteran shipwright who worked for 24 years at the Ofunato factory.

After his home in Ofunato was swept away in the tsunami, he was evacuated to public housing provided by the city free of charge to disaster victims.

Although he was away from boatbuilding for 10 years, he said he quickly adapted when he returned to the work. "My body remembered how to do my job," he said.

Niinuma said he was looking forward to seeing the sea near his hometown filled with fishing boats again.

The agency estimates 12,000 small fishing boats will have been manufactured nationwide by the end of March 2014 at the current production rate, which is 10 times normal output.

Hideki Miura, director of the policy planning department of Japan Fisheries Cooperatives, said: "Restoration of fishing boats, along with recovering seafood processing facilities and market functions, is indispensable to revive the fishing industry. The increase in fishing boat production is a great help."

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