Sunday, June 17, 2001

Salvaging ship very
possible, admiral says

Star-Bulletin news services

UWAJIMA, Japan >> The commander of U.S. naval forces in Japan estimated that there is an 80 percent chance that the Japanese fisheries training ship Ehime Maru will be salvaged successfully.

Rear Adm. Robert Chaplin made the remarks after an hourlong meeting in Uwajima yesterday with about 50 survivors and relatives of the nine people whose bodies are believed to be entombed in the Ehime Maru after a Navy submarine collided with the ship nine miles south of Diamond Head on Feb. 9.

Chaplin told them the Navy decided to go ahead with salvaging the ship after conducting a three-month environmental assessment in cooperation with federal and Hawaii state authorities.

The Navy announced the decision Friday, saying the salvaging will include a search until the end of September for the bodies of the missing.

The operation is expected to involve bringing the vessel to shallower waters to allow divers from the Navy and Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force to search inside once diesel fuel and oil left inside the ship is removed.

Chaplin said the Navy has agreed to requests to recover belongings inside the ship and deliver them to Uwajima. The mast of the ship will also be delivered to Japan, and the film recording the operation will be made available to the families.

The Navy estimates it will spend up to $40 million on the operation. Chaplin said, however, the Navy will pursue the success of the operation without regard for cost, adding that the United States will shoulder the travel cost to Hawaii for those family members who wish to observe the recovery.

Ryosuke Terata, 45, father of Yusuke, 18, who is missing in the collision, said in a separate press conference, "I am relieved to hear the results of the environment assessment and that the operation would not seriously impact the waters there."

Kazuo Nakata, 55, father of Jun, 34, teacher at the Uwajima Fisheries High School who is also missing, said, "We've been waiting for such a long time but now, I can actually feel that things are making progress.

"But I cannot sort my feelings out unless I go to the operation site. Although it may be a sad reunion with my son, I want to see my son once again and hold him in my arms," Nakata said.

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