Sunday, September 23, 2001

The Ehime Maru's rescue boat hung at the sunken ship's side
in this underwater video footage released Feb. 18 by the Navy
to relatives of the nine missing people. The operation to lift
and move the ship has been postponed to mid-October.

Delayed Ehime Maru
salvage hits $60 million

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Bad weather and three unscheduled changes to the Ehime Maru recovery operation have pushed the price tag to $60 million and postponed the possible lifting operation to mid-October.

The price tag may climb even higher for the unprecedented operation designed to recover the remains of nine Japanese high school students, teachers and crewmen of the fisheries training vessel that was sunk Feb. 9 after it was hit by a surfacing nuclear submarine, the USS Greeneville.

Navy Chief Rachel O'Sullivan, Ehime Maru recovery operations spokeswoman, said the Navy "can't speculate on what the final dollar figure will be" for the recovery. That is because the Navy cannot forecast further weather delays or additional technological challenges it may encounter, she said.

She said the Navy's original $40 million estimate was made "prior to the start of the operation and subject to change based on environmental and weather factors."

The Navy has said repeatedly that this is the first time it will try to raise a vessel as heavy as the 830-ton Ehime Maru from such depths. The ship now rests in 2,000 feet of water nine miles south of Diamond Head.

For more than two weeks the Navy has been trying to clear the bow, or the front of the ship, of mud. O'Sullivan said that is one of three factors that resulted in increased costs and the need to push the timetable to lift and transport the Ehime Maru to shallower waters to next month. The operation was originally scheduled to be completed by mid-September.

She said the Navy had initially hoped to raise the Ehime Maru by drilling a tunnel under the vessel's hull to place metal lifting plates at two strategic points: under the engine room at the stern and the pilot house near the bow.

That method failed, so the Navy the tried lifting the stern high enough to position the lifting plates. However, after several tries the strap broke, causing the Ehime Maru's bow to be lodged deep in mud.

That forced the Navy to bring in special hydraulic pumps to dredge the bow of mud so that straps can be attached where the Ehime Maru's anchor chains are located. The purpose of the bow lift is to place the final lifting plate under the pilot house.

O'Sullivan said the lifting strap has been placed on only one side of the bow. She said the Navy does not want to speculate when it will be able to attach the second strap on the other side of the bow.

The Navy hopes to be able to raise the Ehime Maru at least 90 feet off the ocean bottom by mid-October, O'Sullivan said. At that point the Navy would transport it to one mile south of the Honolulu Airport reef runway, where the water is only 115 feet deep. Navy and Japanese divers then plan to search the ship for the missing people.

Last month, rough seas hampered the initial phases of the operation for about a week.

The Navy wants to complete the mission by the end of October before the winter's rough and unpredictable seas set in.

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