Sunday, October 14, 2001

The salvage ships Chihaya, left, and Rockwater 2 sat in waters
about 2 miles off Honolulu Airport's reef runway yesterday
after towing the Ehime Maru from its initial resting place.

Ehime victim
search could begin
on Tuesday

Victims' relatives start arriving
to observe recovery operations

By Gregg K. Kakesako

SIXTY NAVY and six Japanese civilian divers expect to begin examining the Ehime Maru as soon as Tuesday.

Once the Japanese fishing vessel has been relocated near the Honolulu Airport reef runway today in 115 feet of water, it will be left on the ocean floor for 24 hours to stabilize before Navy divers begin a survey of its exterior.

They hope to recover remains of the nine people missing since the ship went down Feb. 9.

The divers will only work during daylight hours over the next 33 days, said Lt. Cmdr. Gregg Baumann, Navy salvage engineer and project relocation manager.

"We still have a high level of confidence that we can accomplish the mission," Baumann said.

Meanwhile, six relatives of a 17-year-old boy and a 33-year-old instructor from the Uwajima Fisheries School whose bodies were never found after the Feb. 9 collision with a U.S. nuclear submarine arrived here yesterday, hoping to observe the recovery operations.

Kazuo Nakata, 56-year-old father of Jun, the instructor, and three of his other relatives arrived with the parents of missing student Yusuke Terata -- father Ryosuke, 45, and mother Masumi, 43.

In a statement, Terata said: "I appreciate the U.S. Navy (for the salvage efforts) and hope the operation goes smoothly and safely.

"I still hope my son is inside the ship, and want to watch the search operation quietly."

Masumi wrote she became tearful when she saw the sea where her son drowned.

The Navy has said that it will pay for round-trip airline tickets and eight days of hotel cost for up to five family members of each victim.

Also expected to arrive today was Hideo Onishi, captain of the Ehime Maru, who will provide technical assistance to the Navy.

The bodies of nine people -- four teenage boys, two of their teachers and three crewmen -- never were found after the USS Greeneville surfaced into the hull of the Ehime Maru nine miles south of Diamond Head. Until this weekend, the Ehime Maru rested on the ocean bottom in 2,000 feet of water.

The 830-ton vessel was raised from the sea floor at 4 a.m. Friday by the Rockwater 2, a civilian ship normally used to explore for underwater oil deposits. By noon yesterday the Rockwater 2 had traveled nearly 13.5 miles with the Ehime Maru suspended below it.

At that point it faced its greatest challenge -- a reef shelf and a gradual climb of 1,300 feet.

Baumann likened that part of the voyage to climbing up steps.

He said the Rockwater 2 would move about 33 feet and then raise the Ehime Maru about 80 feet, repeating the operation until the vessel cleared the reef shelf.

THE EHIME MARU is connected to the Rockwater 2 by four cables 4.5 inches in diameter that keep it suspended directly underneath during the journey, about 90 feet above the ocean floor. It is being raised slowly as the ocean floor rises, keeping it near the bottom to minimize serious damage to either ship if one of the cables breaks.

The Rockwater 2, capable of moving in all directions, is moving slowly, traveling sideways when necessary to keep the Ehime Maru pointed in an optimal direction.

Accompanying the Rockwater 2 are two remotely operated vehicles beneath the surface; the USS Sumner, monitoring the tides and waves and the contour of the ocean bottom; the USS Salvor, a Navy salvage ship which is acting as an emergency platform ship; the Coast Guard cutter Jarvis; and Clean Island Council, an oil spill recovery vessel. During the day helicopters continue to monitor the seas for oil spills.

No major oil spills have been reported.

For the first time the Navy yesterday disclosed that it has recovered personal items from the Ehime Maru. However, Baumann declined to say what they were. A Navy spokesman later explained that no explanation of descriptions will be released until after they have been turned over to family members. The Navy already has recovered the Ehime Maru's anchors and a mast. The Japanese have said that they also want the ship's nameplate and steering wheel.

Baumann said the transit since Friday has been helped because waves have only been 3 to 4 feet and the winds were only blowing at 15 knots.

Kyodo News Service contributed to this report.

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