Friday, July 20, 2001

Ehime Maru mast
being removed

The work is the 1st step toward
raising the sunken vessel

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Working 2,000 feet into the ocean, a remote-operated vehicle today was scheduled to begin removing one of three masts belonging to the Japanese fishing vessel Ehime Maru, which sank near Diamond Head five months ago after it was hit by the USS Greeneville, a Navy submarine.

Removing at least one of the Ehime Maru's three masts, cargo nets and fishing gear by the Phoenix III, the remote-controlled drone, is the first step in raising the vessel and moving it closer to shore and into shallower waters.

The Phoenix was to set a one-pound charge near the base of the stern mast this morning. Jon Yoshishige, navy spokesman, said the mast-removal process could take all day.

The mast was to be lifted by winches or cranes from the deck of the Ehime Maru. The middle mast from the three-deck ship will be lifted intact. The Navy also might leave the forward mast since it was damaged during the collision and probably won't be in the way when the attempt is made to raise the vessel next month.

In Uwajima, the home port of the Ehime Maru, about 300 citizens supporting the survivors and relatives of victims called on the United States for compensation. The support group is headed by Yasuo Mukai, a professor emeritus of Ehime University.

Participants at the rally also demanded the Japanese and U.S. governments further uncover the circumstances behind the tragedy and take measures to prevent similar accidents in the future.

Novelist Katsumoto Saotome said in a speech, "We should not allow the accident to be forgotten."

Masumi Terata, the 43-year-old mother of Yusuke, one of the nine Japanese lost at sea in the accident, told the rally, "We have always been feeling heavy, painful and sad." Her son was 17.

Of the 35 Japanese who were aboard the Ehime Maru, nine, including four teenagers from Uwajima Fisheries High School in the city, died. Twenty-six were rescued.

The $40-million, high-risk salvage operation is the Navy's first attempt to raise a ship as heavy as the Ehime Maru -- 830 tons -- from such a depth.

The Navy acknowledges that Ehime Maru could suffer structural damage greater than anticipated and could break apart as it is being raised and transported to a reef runway recovery site. At that point, the Navy said it would probably abandon the recovery operations.

If the Navy is unable to recover the nine missing people, at the least, it hopes to bring recover the Ehime Maru's nameplate and anchor for a memorial. The masts could also be part of a memorial.

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