Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Raising Ehime Maru
hinges on weather

The Navy is optimistic that gentler
seas will allow for the lifting
of the Japanese ship

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Weather permitting, the Navy believes that as early as tonight it may finally begin raising the 830-ton Japanese fisheries training vessel Ehime Maru sunk eight months ago by the submarine USS Greeneville.

Rear Adm. William Klemm, who heads the salvage operation, said Japanese civilian and Navy divers could begin to search the vessel for the remains of nine people -- four teenage boys, two teachers and two crewmen -- whose bodies were never recovered following the Feb. 9 collision.

At a 30-minute news conference yesterday, Klemm emphasized that this timetable is contingent on favorable sea swells and other weather conditions such as a drop in tradewinds.

Klemm said it will take three to four days to make the slow transit from where the Ehime Maru rests, nine miles south of Diamond Head, to shallower waters because the Rockwater 2, the civilian salvage ship that will be moving the Ehime Maru, will be traveling 0.2 knots to 0.5 knots.

"You're going to need a micrometer to measure speed," Klemm said.

Klemm optimistically told reporters that there now is a 90 percent chance of success that the 190-foot vessel can be lifted from where it sits in 2,000 feet of water and moved 14.5 miles to shallower waters south of the Honolulu Airport's reef runway.

Klemm acknowledged that the potential for failure remains, but he said he has "very high confidence in this operation and we expect to succeed."

He said it would be 48 hours before divers will be allowed to explore the Ehime Maru once it reaches the reef runway site to give the vessel time to settle on the ocean bottom, making next Wednesday the earliest day that dives could be made.

The conditions at the deepwater site have been fairly rough these past few days with waves averaging 8 to 10 feet and tradewinds clocked at 30 knots with occasional gusts higher than that.

Ideally, Klemm said, he would like to see the trades dropping to 15 knots and wave heights of about six feet.

The current weather front is expected to pass north of the islands by late tonight, giving the Navy the window it hopes it can use to begin raising the Ehime Maru one meter a minute until it is about 90 feet off the ocean bottom.

The Navy expects to encounter the roughest ocean conditions during the first six miles because of the normal strong sea swells from the south which are then met by equally heavy trades blowing from the east.

The winds are expected to die off as the Rockwater 2 reaches the protection of the leeward side of Oahu.

So Klemm said the Navy is looking for that "window" which will allow the Rockwater 2 to move with the Ehime Maru suspended below it those crucial six miles without having to stop or letting it come to rest on the ocean bottom.

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