Navy divers expectSeveral key Navy dive officers are optimistic that the remains of the nine Japanese can be recovered if they are still entombed in the hull of the fishing vessel Ehime Maru.
to find victims
Officials tour a Japanese ship
to get clues on exploring
the Ehime Maru's interior
By Gregg K. Kakesako
Their bodies were never found following the collision Feb. 9 with the nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville nine miles south of Diamond Head.
Rear Adm. William Klemm, who heads the Navy's $40 million recovery effort, said there exists a "high likelihood" that the Navy will be able to find the remains of most of the three missing crewmen, four 17-year-old students and two teachers of the Uwajima Fisheries High School.
Equally optimistic was Cmdr. Rob Fink, commanding officer of Mobile Diving Salvage Unit 1 at Pearl Harbor. Despite working in bulky diving suits and helmets rigged with television cameras, Fink said the team of 45 Navy divers should be able to bring up the remains once the ship is moved from its deep-water resting place.
Klemm, who normally is the Pacific Fleet's deputy commander and chief of staff for fleet maintenance, said the Navy in its first phase of the operation for the first time will employ deep-sea techniques normally used to find oil.
That means anchoring the Rock Water 2, owned by the Texas-based Haliburton engineering and construction company, above the Ehime Maru in early August. The task is to rig the 830-pound vessel with straps strong enough to raise it from the ocean bottom 2,003 feet down.
Divers cannot operate at such great depths, Klemm said, and it will be the job of remotely controlled vehicles to rig and prepare the Ehime Maru for movement to shallower waters.
The rigging operation will take about 30 days, followed by another week of transition as the Rock Water 2 slowly drags the Ehime Maru to a still-to-be-determined shallower recovery site a mile south of the Honolulu Airport reef runway.
Klemm and Navy divers met with reporters after spending several hours yesterday visiting and inspecting the Kagawa Maru, which is similar in layout to the Ehime Maru. Fink explained that the purpose of yesterday's visit was "to take the charts and diagrams and convert them to an eyeball view and see a 3-D view."
The Kagawa Maru arrived here last week and will be docked at Aloha Tower until tomorrow. The Navy got permission from the Japanese government for its divers and other salvage experts to tour the interior spaces of the ship. The students and the crewmen are believed to have been trapped in the galley and crew quarters when the sub struck the Ehime Maru.
Chief Warrant Officer George Primavera said the passageways of the Japanese ship are "much more narrow than standard U.S. Navy vessels."
Primavera was involved in the salvage operations of TWA Flight 800, the Paris-bound jumbo jet that blew up July 17, 1996, soon after taking off from Kennedy Airport in New York, killing all 230 people aboard.
The shallow-water recovery operation will take place from the decks of the Crowley barge 450-10 once the Ehime Maru is moved to the reef runway recovery site. There the depth is only 115 feet.
Fink said Navy divers are used to working in such depths. That part of the operation will involve 45 Navy divers and another six to eight Japanese divers from the ship repair facility at Yokosuka. That phase will run for 30 days beginning in September.
Divers who were not able to examine the Kagawa Maru firsthand will be able to view the videotapes compiled yesterday and today.
Klemm said if Ehime Maru cabins are too damaged to allow access by divers, a drone with a television camera will be sent in to film its interior spaces.