The Navy will undertake its largest salvage operation in August when it attempts to lift the 750-ton Japanese fisheries training vessel Ehime Maru from a depth of 2,003 feet and move it within a mile of the Honolulu Airport reef runway.
Navy will pull ship to
shallower waters in August
to search for bodies
Impact on marine life
By Gregg K. Kakesako
There, in a depth of 115 feet, Navy and Japanese military divers from the ship repair facility at Yokosuka hope to recover the bodies of nine people: four 17-year-old boys, two of their teachers and three crewmen.
The Japanese government also has asked the U.S. Navy to recover personal effects and other ship memorabilia, such as its name plate and anchors. The Japanese also want parts of the Ehime Maru for a possible memorial.
The Navy says it is aware that the damage "may be greater than anticipated," which could pose a safety risk and prevent the vessel from being moved.
If that is the case, the Ehime Maru will be left at its current location. Its deck will not be cleared of cargo nets, fishing hooks and longlines, rafts, riggings on the masts and other obstacles.
Since March 8 the Navy has been meeting with state and federal officials to determine whether it can meet the wishes of the Japanese government to raise the 190-foot vessel, which was sunk Feb. 9 by the nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville, without endangering the marine environment.
Yesterday, the Navy released its environmental assessment, which said the proposed $40 million marine salvage operation would not result in significant environmental impacts.
"The greatest potential for effects to water quality, marine biology and health and safety is from hazardous materials such as diesel fuel or lubricating oil escaping from the Ehime Maru (while the ship is lifted from its current location, moved to shallow water, and during the shallow-water recovery operation)," the report said.
When the Ehime Maru left Honolulu Harbor just after noon Feb. 9, it was heavily laden with diesel fuel and lubricating oil, plus a crew and passenger manifest of 35. The Navy estimates that 45,000 gallons of fuel and oil are still in the hull of the Ehime Maru. It hopes to remove much of that.
The Navy describes diesel fuel as being a "light, refined petroleum product that quickly evaporates within hours."
The Navy plans to have aircraft monitoring the operations and also will have absorbent booms, skimmers and oil dispersants to contain and clean up any oil or fuel spills.
In Japan, Rear Adm. Robert Chaplin, commander of U.S. Navy forces in Japan, and nine other officers were to brief the survivors and relatives of the victims of the incident as well as Ehime prefecture officials today on the salvaging operation.
Gov. Ben Cayetano said yesterday he believes Ehime prefecture, which sponsored the training vessel, plans to build another one and keep Hawaii as one of its Pacific stops.
The Ehime Maru now is located nine miles south of Diamond Head, upright on the ocean floor outside Hawaii waters. The Navy believes the vessel has a large hole in its hull near its stern that was caused by the rudder of the Greeneville when the submarine surfaced.
To minimize impact of salvage operations on marine life, the Navy will:
>> Ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct pre-recovery and post-recovery surveys of three areas on Oahu and one on Kauai to identify any birds that might be affected by an oil spill.
>> Ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to station observers on the skimmer vessels to identify any birds, mammals or sea turtles that may come in contact with the diesel fuel or lubricating oil from a spill.
>> Establish a surface safety zone within a radius of three miles around the recovery area.
>> Move the Ehime Maru only during the day and during favorable weather conditions.
>> Place data buoys around the edge of the shallow water recovery area near the reef runway to monitor wind and current conditions.
Because the Ehime Maru sank so quickly, the Navy believes its bulkheads, closed containers and fuel tanks were crushed by the enormous change in pressure.
It is believed that a substantial amount of diesel fuel and lubricating oil leaked out of the storage tanks and has collected in a pocket within the vessel's hull.
Both the Navy and Cmdr. Scott Waddle, the Greeneville's skipper, have accepted responsibility for the collision. Waddle has been stripped of his command and will be allowed to retire this fall with his $32,000 annual pension intact.
In August the Navy plans to use the Rockwater 2, a construction support vessel owned by the Texas-based Halliburton engineering and construction company, to lift the Ehime Maru. Flexible metal lifting plates will be placed under the Ehime Maru to lift it clear of the seabed, using heavy wire cables and winches mounted on the Rockwater 2.
Raising the Ehime Maru 100 feet above the ocean floor, the Rockwater 2 will drag the vessel to a spot a mile south of the reef runway. It then will be placed back on the ocean bottom.
The Ehime Maru has to be moved, the Navy says, because divers cannot work at a 2,000-foot depth and because remotely operated vehicles cannot cut through obstructions or enter closed compartments to conduct the search for the nine bodies.
Raising the Ehime Maru to within 100 feet of the heavy-lift vessel so that divers could enter it also was rejected by the Navy because it was believed that suspending the ship in the open ocean was too dangerous. Simply raising the Ehime Maru out of the water off Diamond Head would increase the likelihood that it would break apart, creating a risk to the environment.
Rejected as salvage sites were areas off Ewa Beach west of the entrance to Pearl Harbor, off Waianae Coast north of the Barbers Point Deep Draft Harbor, and two areas off of Molokai.
The prime contractor will be Smit-Tak, a subsidiary of the Netherlands-based Smit International, which did the initial feasibility study in March.
The Rockwater 2 is expected to arrive here next month. The entire operation is expected to take three months.
Once the operation is completed, Japanese divers will be allowed to make the final search before the Ehime Maru is sealed and taken by heavy construction barge company Crowley Maritime to a spot outside the state's 12-mile boundary south of Barbers Point and sunk in more than 6,000 feet of water. It will be equipped with a pinger so that its final resting place can be marked.