Sunday, July 1, 2001

USS Greeneville

Navy begins
operation to raise
Ehime Maru

Divers and experts will
use sister ship to learn
layout of vessel

By Gregg K. Kakesako

More than three dozen Navy divers and technical experts today will board the Kagawa Maru, the sister ship of the sunken Ehime Maru, to enhance familiarity with the Ehime Maru's interior as they prepare for a recovery mission this fall. The Kagawa Maru is docked in Honolulu Harbor this weekend.

Recovery dives are expected to begin in early September, according to the Navy's environmental assessment.

The Navy, after reviewing decades of tide and trade wind data, decided that the August-September period offered the best weather conditions for such an ambitious salvaging operation.

The first phase calls for the heavy-duty Ocean Hercules to do preliminary work, including cutting away two of the Ehime Maru's three masts and removing other obstacles such as cargo nets.

Transponders also will be deployed around the sunken vessel to help direct the remotely controlled vehicles.

The USNS Sumner surveyed the ocean floor a few miles off Oahu.

"Anything loose will be taken off the ship," said Jon Yoshishige, Navy spokesman. Preliminary plans call for these items to be returned to Japan.

The $40 million Ehime Maru recovery and relocation effort, expected to begin late this month, will cost almost as much as the fixing of the destroyer USS Cole, damaged by a terrorist bomb in Aden, Yemen, last October. The Navy will spend $44 million to restore the Cole, on which seven sailors were killed and twice as many wounded. The Ehime Maru operation will include recovery of the bodies of the nine Japanese men and boys killed when the USS Greeneville nuclear sub collided with a Japanese fishing vessel on Feb. 9.

The 190-foot Ehime Maru sank nine miles south of Diamond Head at a depth of 2,003 feet, far below the capacity of any divers.

The Navy's current plans call for a contract civilian vessel, using remotely controlled vehicles, to rig the 190-foot Ehime Maru with special metal plates to it can be lifted in late August and dragged to a spot a mile off the Honolulu Airport reef runway.

It will be the first time the Navy will try to recover a vessel as heavy as the Ehime Maru which is estimated to weigh more than 830 tons, said Yoshishige.

He said the government has brought up military helicopters and fighters and even civilian aircraft from as deep as 17,000 feet.

However, it has never recovered items as massive as the Ehime Maru, he added.

Salvage plan diagram

For the past several weeks the USNS Sumner, an oceanographic survey ship, has been mapping the ocean floor near the reef runway in an attempt to find a suitable bottom site to rest the Ehime Maru so 60 Japanese and Navy divers can begin the search for the bodies of the three missing crewmen and four 17-year-old students and two teachers of the Uwajima Fisheries High School. The Navy is looking for a spot at about a depth of 100 feet.

The Navy's environmental assessment projects the salvage vessel Rock Water 2, owned by the Texas-based Haliburton engineering and construction company, to anchor above the Ehime Maru in early August.

Using coiled tubing the crew of the Rock Water 2 will try to blast a pathway under the Ehime Maru using streams of water so five-foot long three-quarter inch thick steel plates can be placed under the bow and stern of the fishing vessel. The metal lifting plates will then be attached by steel cables to the Rock Water 2.

As the Ehime Maru is gradually lifted from the ocean bottom the Rock Water 2 will drag the crippled vessel to a point a mile south of the reef runway. The Navy environmental assessment says the recovery operations will only be done during the day so if any of the 45,000 gallons of diesel fuel and lubricating oil escapes still stored in the hull of the vessel escapes, oil spill specialists can deploy absorbent booms, skimmers and dispersants.

The Japanese research vessel Kairei and its remotely controlled vehicle Kaiko will inspect the deep water recovery site after the Ehime Maru has been lifted and relocated.

By mid-August the Navy's environmental assessment projects the Ehime Maru will have been moved to its shallow water reef runway relocation site. The Crowley barge 450-10 will then be situated above the Ehime Maru to serve as a diving platform for 60 Navy and Japanese divers. The diving operation is expected to begin in September and could take as long as 30 days.

The final phase of the operation calls for Japanese divers working off the Japanese submarine rescue ship Chihaya to conduct the final inspection of the Ehime Maru and the waters in the shallow water recovery site before the Crowley barge tows it to a spot outside of the state's 12-mile boundary south of Barbers Point where it will be sunk in waters more than 6,000 feet deep.

That should occur in early October.

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