An international container ship arrived at the port of Ofunato at the end of September 2013—two and a half years after the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the port, which had been the busiest port in Iwate Prefecture. The new shipping service was made possible by improvements to the harbor facilities funded by the Nippon Foundation.
Optimizing Loading and Unloading Conditions
At the Nonoda wharf, expectations were high for the first international container vessel to arrive at Ofunato since the earthquake hit. The large container crane damaged by the tsunami has been restored to its original condition. Next to the crane are five new trucks, ready to carry the containers. Their cabs are embellished with the green Nippon Foundation logo. The trucks will transport the containers from the ships at the wharf to the container yard. Before the earthquake, Nonoda had just one container truck; so now, with the five trucks, significant improvements in the volume of cargo can be expected.
The five trucks and chassis were purchased at the time Ofunato’s international container route opened through the support of the Nippon Foundation. The improved container terminal constitutes one link in a joint government and private-sector project aimed at making the port an international center for the distribution of fisheries products. In addition to building an administrative building and donating the five trucks, the Nippon Foundation is also planning to construct a storage facility for the containers and customs inspection station, and to purchase a truck scale and three forklifts. The foundation is also funding the construction of a warehouse with refrigeration and freezing equipment, and helping at the wharf to replace equipment that was washed away by the tsunami. The complex is scheduled to be completed by the spring of 2015.
The Ofunato port, once the largest facility of its kind in Iwate Prefecture, was hard hit by the earthquake and tsunami. A shipping line that had operated between Ofunato and Busan in South Korea since 2007 was temporarily suspended. Ofunato used to boast one of Japan’s biggest saury catches until the earthquake and tsunami, and though basic operations resumed in the summer of 2011, the slow pace of the rebuilding effort made it impossible for large vessels to dock there, which in turn impeded progress on restoring Ofunato status as a global shipping hub. The opening of the new line connecting Iwate and the United States is an important first step in returning the port to its former role.
Takeju Ogata, president of the Nippon Foundation, emphasized the importance of port-loading facilities for marine transportation at a ceremony to mark the establishment of the Ofunato shipping line, held on September 28, 2013:
“Loading and unloading facilities at a port are indispensable for attracting vessels to a harbor. The port of Kobe used to be one of Japan’s busiest ports, but the number of ships entering the harbor still falls short of the level it had been before the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck in January 1995. This is due to the slow progress in renovating loading and unloading facilities. The loading facilities of a port are the lifeline of marine transportation. When goods are distributed, the economy is stimulated and jobs are created. When a manufacturer decides to transport its goods by sea, new ships are built—breathing new life into the ship-building industry. Bearing this in mind, we shall do all we can to ensure the success of this port.”
The maiden voyage of the container ship took place on September 30, two days later than planned, due to a typhoon passing through the area. Two containers with machines manufactured in Iwate Prefecture were loaded on the ship at Ofunato and transported to the port of Keihin in Tokyo Bay via Sendai. At Keihin, the containers were reloaded on large foreign vessels bound for the United States. Container ships are scheduled to depart the port of Ofunato at the pace of one per week.
Photographs by Kei Kodera