A U.S. Coast Guard cutter poured cannon fire into a Japanese ghost ship that had been drifting since last year's tsunami, sinking the vessel in the Gulf of Alaska and eliminating the hazard it posed to shipping and the coastline.

The cutter's guns tore holes in the 50-metre Ryou-Un Maru on Thursday, ending its long, lonely journey across the Pacific that began when the deadly tsunami set it floating more than a year ago.

The crew pummelled the ghost ship with high-explosive ammunition, and the derelict Ryou-Un Maru soon burst into flames and began taking on water, officials said.

In about four hours, the ship vanished into the water.

Officials decided to sink the ship rather than risk the chance of it running aground or endangering other vessels in the busy shipping lanes between North America and Asia. The ship had no lights or communications system. Officials didn't know how much fuel was aboard.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency decided it was safer to sink the ship and let the fuel evaporate in the water.

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