Saturday, May 5, 2001

USS Greeneville

Navy weighs
options in recovery
of Ehime Maru

One alternative would move
the wreckage to shallow water
off the airport reef runway

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Navy is considering gradually moving the Japanese fisheries training vessel Ehime Maru late this summer to waters nearly a mile off the Reef Runway, where divers could search it for missing crewmen and personal items.

It would be an unprecedented $40 million undertaking that could last up to six months. The Ehime Maru would be the largest sunken object ever recovered by the Navy from such a depth.

The plan is in response to persistent demands from the Japanese government and the families of the missing crewmen.

The 190-foot fishing vessel now lies in 2,003 feet of water nine miles south of Diamond Head, where it came to rest after it was struck and sunk by the nuclear submarine USS Greeneville on Feb. 9. The bodies of nine people -- four 17-year-old boys, two of their teachers and three crewmen -- were never found.

Using deep-diving remotely controlled probes, the Navy found the Ehime Maru intact and sitting upright.

For the past several months, the Navy has been examining several possible sites where the 750-ton ship could be moved for the salvage operations.

The Navy's prime candidate now appears to be an area 16 miles from where the Ehime Maru now rests. The Navy wants the salvage operation to be done where there is a flat, sandy bottom no deeper than 100 feet, with a minimal tidal flow.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Navy was required to look at several alternatives, said Jon Yoshishige, Pacific Fleet spokesman.

Besides the Reef Runway, the other proposed sites include an area 1.15 miles west of the Barbers Point Deep Draft Harbor and one 1.15 miles south of Ewa Beach.

Yoshishige said environmental concerns and distance from the site of the sinking were the reasons these Leeward Oahu sites were rejected.

The same reasons also caused the Navy to rule out areas just south of Molokai and the Penguin Banks fishing ground. Yoshishige said the Navy hopes to complete its environmental assessment by mid-June and begin the recovery operation in late summer.

The recovery operation is based on a feasibility study done by Smit Tak, a subsidiary of the Netherlands-based Smit International. That study was turned over to the Navy on March 8.

The operation would be done in seven phases:

>> Completion of an environmental assessment to study the impact on local marine life from hazards such as leaking diesel fuel.

>> Mobilization of salvage activities here.

>> Using remotely operated vehicles to rig the Ehime Maru with metal lift plates. These plates would wedge the Ehime Maru off the bottom.

>> Using the heavy-lift ship Rock Water II to raise the Ehime Maru a few feet at a time until it is 15 feet off the ocean bottom, then gradually moving it toward the reef runway.

>> Using remotely operated vehicles to search for debris that might be left behind.

>> Resting the Ehime Maru on the sandy bottom 100 feet down.

>> Sending divers to retrieve bodies and personal effects.

>> Taking the ship to a spot outside of the state's 12-mile boundary and sinking it in waters of at least 1,000 fathoms.

Yoshishige said the Navy estimates that there is still 45,000 gallons of diesel and lube oil in the hull of the Ehime Maru. As a safety precaution, the Navy plans to have skimmers and aircraft follow the ship as it is being moved.

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