Friday, September 7, 2001

Miscues fail to
dim Navy’s optimism
about Ehime Maru

A Japanese official will be here
Sunday for a progress report

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka is expected to meet Sunday with Navy officials at Pearl Harbor to get a progress report on the attempts to raise the sunken Japanese fisheries training vessel Ehime Maru.

Tanaka will be stopping here after attending the 50th anniversaries of the signing of the San Francisco peace and U.S.-Japanese security treaties in San Francisco tomorrow, Japanese Consulate officials said.

While here, Tanaka plans to meet with Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force members and divers who are involved in attempts to raise the Ehime Maru and the search for the nine missing people believed to be entombed in the vessel, Japanese officials said.

Also en route to Hawaii are 14 students of Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, which operated the ill-fated Ehime Maru. The students left today on a training voyage to Hawaii, the first time students of the Uwajima school have set out on a training exercise since the Ehime Maru was sunk by the Greeneville off Hawaii on Feb 9.

The 14 Uwajima students joined 12 students of Kochi Marine Senior High School in Tosa aboard the 459-ton Tosa Kaien Maru, which left from Kochi port in western Japan.

During the training voyage, the students are to fish for tuna and other fish off Hawaii and call at Honolulu in late October before returning to Japan in early November, Kyodo News Service reported.

Despite several setbacks over the past few weeks to raise the Ehime Maru, Rear Adm. William Klemm, head of the recovery operation, said yesterday that "the Navy is firmly committed to the execution of the recovery of the Ehime Maru, and nothing that has transpired to this point makes that mission any more difficult than it was from the beginning."

The Ehime Maru sank to a depth of 2,000 feet after it was hit by the Greeneville, nine miles south of Diamond Head. For the past two weeks, the Navy has been involved in an unprecedented $40 million attempt to raise the ship and move it to shallower waters for a search and recovery phase.

But it has been unable to place two 50-foot-long metal lifting plates under the hull of the Ehime Maru and near the pilot house and the engine room.

The first tries to install the plates by tunneling under the hull failed late last month. Then the Navy tried to partially lift the stern of the sunken boat, but on two separate occasions the 5-foot-wide metal strap broke.

But Klemm said the Rockwater 2, the civilian ship contracted by the Navy to lift and move the 830-ton Ehime Maru, will return to the site this morning after getting more supplies and refueling. He also said there appears to be less of a chance of contamination by leaking diesel or lube oil.

Klemm said the 190-foot Ehime Maru is "in stronger condition than has been initially anticipated in the feasibility studies. It has been able to withstand far greater structural stresses than were calculated initially. That is a very good sign, and a very positive sign for our ability to successfully relocate the ship."

Klemm said the Navy still plans to rig the Ehime Maru with a special cradle to move it to shallow waters one mile south of the Honolulu Airport's reef runway. He said once the two primary lifting straps and lifting plates are in place, there will be no changes in the operation.

Rockwater 2 has been trying unsuccessfully to rig the sunken vessel since Aug. 7.

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