Now Need Tsunami Lost-and-Found

03/29/2011
By

TOKYO (majirox news) – Who owns the boats that were tossed up on the shore by the tsunami and what are the property rights of refugees whose homes were reduced to sticks and cinders by it?

“No one knows,” said Noriko Kitagaki, a bank examiner temporarily assisting as a disaster relief official. “There are 256 licensed real estate evaluators in Miyagi prefecture. We need them to evaluate the land and property. I don’t how many are alive or where most of them are. The wreckage also has salvage value in addition to the land it sits on.”

The office of the Prime Minister issued a directive saying that boats thrown inland by the tsunami will be moved to temporary storage areas until reclaimed by their owners.

“Where should we store these boats?” Kitagaki said. “Officially there are 254 ships beached by the tsunami and about 19 owners identified so far. The remaining owners can be identified from the ship’s name and registration. Whether they are still alive is another problem.”

Another dilemma is how many boats can be easily refloated and the practicality of moving unclaimed or irreparable ships to special holding areas.

“For example, one of the boats is sitting on the roof of the local ward office,” Kitagaki said. “It weighs about 200 tons. How are we suppose to move it?”

Other legal problems are also starting to emerge.

In the case of 100-ton or 200- ton fishing boat thrown inland, if it has not undergone severe structural damage, then it may be possible to refloat the boat. Even if it is beyond saving, it offers valuable salvage. The amount of metal, machinery, electronics, fuel and even personal effects left on the boat could be worth several hundred thousand dollars or more. But who owns the boat and where should it be moved to?

A Japan Self Defense Force (SDF) member, who requested not to be named, said, “Where can we get a carrier capable of moving a 200-ton fishing boat? And how can we move it as some roads remain impassable? And where are the storage areas the government said they would designate?”

Many of the boats that cannot be moved or are not worth moving will have to be dismantled where they lay. However this is contrary to current government directives. It also has the potential to trigger numerous lawsuits about the value of the wreckage or stranded boats.

“Who does this money go to? Kitagaki said. “The owners? The next of kin? And what about the insurance companies? Do they have a claim or is this an Act of God so extreme that it is not be covered in their policies? They may have a claim, too.”

Kitagaki is not the only one baffled by this predicament. SDF soldiers searching for bodies recently came across a 20-kilogram safe in the ruins of a building. One of the soldiers wondered what was in it, how to open it and who it belonged to? “We didn’t have a clue what to do,” he said.

While the clean-up after the earthquake and tsunami will be long and protracted, many are concerned that there is not a policy on handling this tricky question of ownership, value and compensation for the a countless wreckage of boats, cars, buildings and installations.

The government took this problem up at a cabinet meeting on March 27. They are exploring whether Product Liability Insurance has wide enough applications to pay for removing or dismantling the boats and are heavily leaning toward applying it. In other words, the insurance companies will pay.

This question and its implications are so serious that it could delay badly needed rebuilding and salvage operations. However, the government realizes the urgency of the problem. On March 28, they began issuing directives about payments for earthquake damage to insurance companies. Directives are emerging about how to deal with the scores of crushed automobiles left scattered across northeast Japan.

Like everything else in its path, the tsunami and earthquake has been so overwhelming that even the insurance business is having great difficulty coping with its aftermath.

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