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Monday, February 12, 2001

Officials ask help
in counseling

The mood was tense as
the fishing school called
parents in for advice

Bullet Seafaring tradition
Bullet Recovery considered

Star-Bulletin staff and wire

TOKYO -- Officials at a small Japanese fisheries school that lost four students when a U.S. submarine rammed their training trawler gathered parents today to discuss how to help the boys' classmates cope with the tragedy.

"We are planning to gather all of the students tomorrow and hold a meeting with them," an official at Uwajima Marine and Fisheries High School said. "I really don't know what we will say to them."

The nine students rescued from the Ehime Maru training trawler that was rammed and sunk by the USS Greeneville on Friday will return to Japan tomorrow, a school official said.

Nine people are still missing -- the four 17-year-old students, two teachers and three crew members. All are feared entombed in the sunken training vessel. The other 26 people on board were rescued.

The school, on an island that is a rural southern backwater, will gather its 200 students together tomorrow for half a day of counseling. There will be no classes.

"Today, the mood is very subdued, yet still hopeful amongst administrators and faculty," said Kazumi Yano, an administration worker. He was among those working today, a national holiday in Japan, to plan how they will explain the accident to students.

The small town of Uwajima is stunned by the accident, the first such tragedy among its students, who have been taking part in training voyages to Hawaii since the late 1950s.

"I am waiting for answers from the United States as to how this accident happened," said a grandmother of one of the missing boys.

A graduate of the school recalled the voyage he made when he was a teen-ager aboard the same training trawler to Hawaii. "The teachers always looked out for us and made sure that we never faced a dangerous situation," he told national broadcaster NTV.

The school is one of Japan's 47 public and one private marine and fisheries high schools that have more than12,000 students. Long sea journeys are commonplace for the students.

More than half schools send students on training voyages to Hawaii, which offers calm waters, top-notch medical facilities and a safe destination for teens making a first long voyage on open seas.

"His parents were waiting for him to graduate and join their fishing business," a friend of the family of one of the missing boys told NTV. "They are heartbroken now."

About 30 relatives, school officials and others flew to Hawaii on the weekend to receive first-hand information from the search site.

"If there is no chance of survival, please return (the remains) to me as soon as possible," Kyodo news agency quoted one relative as saying in Hawaii.

The families have joined a call by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori to U.S. officials to raise the Ehime Maru from its watery grave.

Such a salvage operation would be difficult, however, said officials in Japan.

The accident occurred when the nuclear attack submarine surged to the surface in an emergency exercise, hitting the training trawler with its stern and ripping open the hull of the fishing vessel. It sank in just 10 minutes.

Seafaring tradition

More than 12,000 students are
enrolled in fisheries high schools
throughout Japan

By Jon Herskovitz

TOKYO -- What, you might wonder, was a small Japanese trawler packed with high school students doing chasing tuna off Hawaii ?

The answer, is that Ehime Maru, sunk by a surfacing U.S. nuclear submarine on Friday, was helping to train a new generation of seafarers and maintain a centuries-old maritime tradition.

The trawler was rounding out the curriculum for just a few of the thousands of teenagers who study at speciality fisheries high schools in Japan.

"Japan is an island country and we have a deep and long culture of fishing," Education Ministry spokesman Toshikuni Ochiai told Reuters by telephone.

Japan has 47 public and one private marine and fisheries high schools with more than 12,000 students enrolled.

One of the smallest is the Uwajima Marine and Fisheries High School, 13 of whose 200 students were aboard their Ehime Maru trawler when the USS Greeneville surfaced, struck it and sank it.

Four of the students, all 17 years old, two teachers and three crew members were still missing today.

Long sea journeys are commonplace for these students, with over half of Japan's schools sending their students on training voyages to Hawaii, which offers calm waters, top-notch medical facilities and a safe destination for teenagers making their first long voyage on the open seas.

The fisheries high schools have been an essential part of the Japanese education system for over 100 years.

Japanese rely on fish as their main source of protein, as the greatest delicacy in their diet and are credited with inventing sushi -- a dish de rigeur in fashionable restaurants across the world.

About 23 vessels from these schools are now sailing in waters around Hawaii helping to educate the young people who will be the next generation of Japanese fishermen and ship captains.

"Fishing is a part of our lives and these schools play an important role in preserving and advancing our maritime culture," said the Education Ministry's Ochiai.

Most of the graduates from fisheries schools end up in marine-related industries.

Some become fishermen, some join sea food product companies and others study marine biology.

Japan has thousands of fisheries cooperatives and the fishing sector employs about 400,000 people.

Japanese fishing fleets span the globe and, for many on board those ships, their introduction to the sea starts with a training voyage.

The ill-fated 499-ton Ehime Maru, hit by the 6,900-ton Greeneville, had 13 second-year students and two teachers from the Uwajima school among the 35 people aboard.

Their school on the main southern island of Shikoku has a long history of training voyages for Japan's next generation of fishermen.

The school was founded in 1945 and has sent hundreds of students to Hawaii, a destination they considered safe.

Its first training trips to the isles started in the late 1950s.

"Nothing like this has ever happened before," said Vice-Principal Kazumistu Joko.

"We are all trying to keep a positive attitude and we want to believe that all of those lost at sea are still safe," Joko said.

Most staff gathered at the school after news of the accident to console relatives and make preparations for a trip to Hawaii.

It was a chaotic scene, school officials said. "We have never lost one of our training ships before," one said.

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