TWO Whitby men are trapped in Japan after the country’s biggest ever natural disaster.
Mick Naisbitt (58) and Peter Rees (31) are stuck on board a scientific ship which, in a strange twist of fate, is researching the causes of earthquakes.
The boat, named the Chikyu, was badly damaged when it was battered by the enormous earthquake and tsunami that has claimed more than 20,000 lives.
Mr Rees’ wife, Kerry, and Mr Naisbitt’s daughter, Nicola, have been in regular contact with them since the disaster struck.
Mr Naisbitt, of Kirkham Road in Whitby, was able to contact the Gazette via email and said: “There are still 173 people on board and morale is dropping fast.
“Fresh water is running out as the ship cannot produce more when we are so close to shore.”
Mr Naisbitt was due to return home tomorrow, whereas Mr Rees, of Whitby’s Lilla Close, only arrived on the boat on 7 March.
Mrs Rees discovered her husband was safe when he contacted her via Facebook.
She said: “I woke up on Friday to a Facebook message that said ‘When you see the news, don’t worry, I’m safe.’
“There were three earthquakes before the tsunami hit, and Mick was actually joking he had seen bigger waves off Whitby Pier, until another lad said ‘turn around’.
“It was surreal, the harbour just emptied in minutes and when they saw the tsunami coming towards them they got everybody down into the canteen and it was just a case of sitting tight.
“When they got up on deck afterwards there was just cars and buses and buildings floating past. It’s like something out of a movie.”
The Chikyu, meaning ‘the earth’, is a research vessel designed with the specific purpose of investigating the causes of earthquakes.
It was hoped the work done by the vessel could help unlock the secret of earthquakes and allow predictions of natural disasters, potentially saving millions of lives, but now its future is in question.
A class of Japanese schoolchildren was visiting the vessel and arrived moments before the tsunami struck, washing away the coach they had travelled in.
Miss Naisbitt said the crew of the boat had sat with the children to keep them calm: “They were all in the canteen singing with the kids and watching cartoons to try to keep them calm while the tsunami was battering the boat around them.
“The following day they all had to hold the kids’ hands and take them out in tens to the rescue helicopter. The kids don’t even know if their parents are okay.”
Approximately 173 people are still on board the ship, including 14 British nationals and Japanese authorities have issued another tsunami warning for Thursday.
Miss Naisbitt added: “They have not experienced a disaster, they are still in one.
“My dad is hoping all the men will stay aboard to remove the anchors and they have a chance of sailing tomorrow up north to a port that has not been affected too badly, so fingers crossed.”
Mr Naisbitt told the Whitby Gazette just before we went to press yesterday that the plan is for the boat to head north to Yokohama today where it should be safer – it’s damage would be unlikely to stand up to another tsunami.