After numerous setbacks and nearly a month behind schedule, the Navy is apparently ready to move the battered Ehime Maru to shallow waters as early as Wednesday to search for the remains of nine missing people.
Navy almost set to
move Ehime Maru
By Gregg K. Kakesako
The Navy also said that it will pay the cost of lodging and two round trips between here and Uwajima, Japan, where the fisheries training vessel was home-ported, for up to five family members of each of the nine victims -- but only after the remains have been identified by the city medical examiner's office.
Yesterday, the latest hurdle in this unprecedented $60 million effort was overcome when the Rockwater 2 salvage vessel, contracted to lift the Ehime Maru from its watery grave, was able to place the second and crucial metal lifting plate under the hull of the vessel.
Using special riggings, Navy and civilian salvage workers lifted the Ehime Maru nearly 10 feet, moved it nearly 110 feet to the left and 16.5 feet forward, then lowered it onto the special lifting plate under the ship's pilothouse.
That plate -- and another plate already under the ship's engine room -- will be used to raise the Ehime Maru about 100 feet off the ocean floor so it can be transported, while still submerged, to a depth of 115 feet about a mile off Honolulu Airport's reef runway. The trip is expected to take three or four days.
The Navy says the Rockwater 2, a 5,991-ton Dutch-made salvage vessel, will spend the next few days confirming that the plate is properly positioned under the hull near the Ehime Maru's pilothouse and connecting the plate to the special lifting assembly. The Rockwater 2 will then return to Honolulu Harbor for two to three days to re-rig the forward end of the top lifting frame from a single-cable to a double-cable configuration.
After returning to the deep-water site next week, Rockwater 2 will reconnect the top frame to the bottom frame of the special lifting cradle, which will have remained above the Ehime Maru.
Initial plans call for the Navy to raise the 190-foot, 830-ton Ehime Maru 90 feet above the ocean bottom, then travel about 1 knot an hour to a depth of 115 feet. There, Navy and Japanese civilian divers will search the Ehime Maru for the four missing teenage boys, their two teachers and three crewmen.
The Ehime Maru was struck by the nuclear submarine USS Greeneville on Feb. 9 as it demonstrated an emergency surfacing maneuver. The Navy believes that only five to seven of the nine missing people are entombed in the vessel.
The Navy has said that if the Ehime Maru can withstand the initial lift, it should be able to make the 12-mile voyage toward shore.
Several months ago, Navy salvage experts estimated that the project had an 80 percent chance of success. That was before it ran into trouble trying to position the lifting plates under the pilothouse and the engine room of the Ehime Maru. Several times, the lifting cables broke, putting the project behind schedule.