Thursday, August 30, 2001

A Coast Guard helicopter flew
above the Rockwater 2 yesterday.

Navy lifts
Ehime Maru

Two guide wires are slid under
the hull and will be used to
position lifting plates

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Navy has successfully lifted the sunken stern of the Ehime Maru long enough to slide two wires under the hull of the ship, which sits in 2000 feet of water after it was rammed by the nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville more than six months ago.

The wires will be used to position steel lifting plates which, if all goes well, will help move the Japanese fisheries training vessel to shallower water where the bodies and personal effects of missing students and crew members can be recovered.

Jon Yoshishige, Pacific Fleet spokesman, said the lifting operation began just after 5:30 p.m. yesterday nine miles south of Diamond Head. He didn't know how long or how high the 190-foot Ehime Maru was lifted by the Rockwater 2's two main winches. But he said "There was no indication of damage to the hull and no significant release of diesel fuel."

Yoshishige said the Ehime Maru's hull was placed back down on the ocean floor after the messenger wires were successfully installed.

The Navy was informed that the first phase of the unprecedented $40 million operation had been successfully completedly just before 1 a.m. today, he said.

Nine boys and men died in the Feb. 9 collision. The Navy has been under pressure from the Japanese government over the past six months to send divers into the Ehime Maru to search for the remains of the missing.

But since divers cannot work at such depths, the Navy hopes to raise the Ehime Maru and then move it 12.5 miles to a spot one mile south of Honolulu Airport's reef runway.

The Navy tried for six days to drill small tunnels under the Ehime Maru where the pressure is 60 times that of sea level. The idea is to position steel lifting plates under two critical parts of the boat that would be attached to a special cradle used by the Rockwater 2 to raise the Ehime Maru.

The lift is expected to take about 10 hours. The Navy hopes to do that sometime next month when tide, wind and wave conditions are the calmest.

After the Navy divers complete their search for the remains, personal effects and unique ship artifacts, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force divers will move in to make the final inspection before the ship is permanently sunk in international waters.

Meanwhile, an ongoing Navy investigation has determined that the Greeneville scraped the bottom of the harbor in Saipan while attempting to leave it because of rough seas Monday.

The preliminary findings of an investigation determined that the Los Angeles-class attack submarine "experienced a momentary grounding amid extremely rough seas during their approach to the harbor," Lt. Cmdr. Kelly Merrell, Pacific Submarine Forces spokeswoman, said last night.

However, Merrell said there are no specifics on how deep the water was in the Saipan channel or the type of bottom against which the Greeneville's hull scraped.

"There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered by the Navy's investigation," she said.

The Navy's investigation will include a review of such items as the condition of the seas that day and piloting procedures.

The 360-foot attack sub left Pearl Harbor on Aug. 15 with a new skipper, Cmdr. David Bogdan, on its first six-month Western Pacific deployment since the Ehime Maru incident.

Bogdan, 39, was reversing the Greeneville when the accident occurred. The sub was attempting to enter the harbor at Saipan for a port call when Bogdan decided that sea conditions were too rough and unsafe to continue.

The investigation is being conducted by Navy officials stationed at Yokosuka in Japan. The investigation's results will be forwarded to Rear. Adm. Joseph E. Enright, commander of Submarine Group Nine.

In Monday's mishap, the Greeneville's rudder and hull suffered minor damage. Merrell said she did not know how long the Greeneville would remain in Apra Harbor on Guam, where the repairs will be made.

In the Ehime Maru collision, the Greeneville suffered $2 million worth of damage.

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