Sunday, August 5, 2001

In March, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, center, offered
prayers with family members who lost their loved ones in the
Feb. 9 sinking of the Ehime Maru. Navy divers have been learning
how to respect the Japanese culture and victims' families.

Ship recovery
raises cultural issues

Ehime Maru divers will be
educated on Eastern
spiritual belief

By Jaymes Song
Associated Press

The recovery of an 830-ton Japanese fishing vessel sunk by a Navy submarine from 2,000 feet of water poses technical challenges unlike any the Navy has faced in previous salvage operations.

Equally daunting, Navy officials and observers say, will be navigating cultural differences and political sensitivities.

USS Greeneville "In the course of this operation we have attempted to understand the Japanese culture and educate our divers and the folks that will be working on the bottom to respect that culture, and to the best of our ability we will do as the Japanese would have done themselves," said Rear Adm. William Klemm, who is overseeing the $40 million recovery operation to raise the Ehime Maru.

The Ehime Maru sunk with nine men and boys on board when it was struck by the USS Greeneville submarine south of Waikiki on Feb. 9. Twenty-six crew members, teachers and students from the fishing school boat were rescued.

The Greeneville was demonstrating a rapid-surfacing drill for 16 civilian guests. Cmdr. Scott Waddle was reprimanded, effectively ending his 20-year career. Four other crewmen were disciplined.

The Navy plans to lift the Ehime Maru using specially outfitted oil rigging vessels that will tow the vessel underwater to shallower water within a mile of shore so divers can search for bodies.

Japan and the families of the missing boys and men have demanded return of the bodies.

"We know that the families are anxious to reclaim remains because of their culture and their religion," Klemm said. "Those remains mean a lot more in their culture than they would in a Western civilization."

Takie Lebra, a University of Hawaii emeritus professor of anthropology, said the recovery is important because the spirit and the body are "continuous," or considered one, in Japanese culture.

"The body includes the spirit or soul," she said. "They are not distinct from each other."

If a body is not returned, its soul will be considered lost and closure for relatives would be difficult, Lebra said.

When a body is returned, a ceremony and rituals are performed in honor of the person, said Lebra, who was born and raised in Japan.

Alfred Bloom, a University of Hawaii emeritus professor of religion, said many Japanese whose values are rooted in Buddhism believe ceremonies are needed so spirits "can be released into the afterlife."

But Bloom noted that the return of bodies to their loved ones is not just a Japanese practice.

He cited Russian efforts to raise the sunken submarine Kursk, which contains the bodies of 118 men, and the United States' push to recover the remains of U.S. servicemen lost in the Vietnam and Korean wars.

Bloom said families feel they have lost a "precious life and a child," and anything they can do to get the body or a personal item would help them.

Klemm said American sailors are generally averse to disturbing what they regard as an underwater grave for people who died at sea.

One example is at Pearl Harbor, where some 900 of the 1,117 USS Arizona crew members who were killed in the 1941 attack are entombed in the ship's sunken hull. Some survivors of the attack have had their ashes interred in the Arizona with their shipmates.

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