Sunday, November 25, 2001

Ehime Maru begins
trip to its final
resting place

Relatives of 4 victims will attend
the sinking at a site off Kalaeloa

By Gregg K. Kakesako

The Japanese fishery training vessel Ehime Maru began its final voyage yesterday, a voyage that cost more than $60 million, damaged U.S.-Japanese relations, ended the promising career of a Navy officer and cut short the lives of nine people.

Relatives of four of the nine victims will be present aboard the Japanese submarine rescue vessel Chihaya today when the straps carrying the Ehime Maru are cut and the ill-fated vessel is laid to rest.

Its final resting place will be in more than 8,000 feet of water 18 miles south of Kalaeloa. It's been more than nine months since the 190-foot Ehime Maru was rammed by the nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville and sank nine miles south of Diamond Head.

The three-mile voyage from the airport's reef runway where Navy and Japanese divers spent 20 days searching the wreckage for nine missing people began at 10:44 a.m. yesterday.

The 830-ton Ehime Maru was lifted by a special carrying cradle tethered from the Crowley 450-10 barge and suspended 90 feet below the vessel. The tug Sea Valor towed the barge, traveling about one knot.

The Navy said the Ehime Maru's weight was distributed by the two straps and a specially designed lifting and spreader assembly. The same system was used to carry the Ehime Maru more than 16 miles on its Oct. 12-15 transit.

When the Ehime Maru sank on Feb. 9, it came to rest in 2,000 feet of water. However, since divers cannot work in such depths, a special carrying cradle had to be devised to lift and move the Ehime Maru to the shallow-water recovery site. The shallow-water site was 115 feet deep and about one mile south of Honolulu Airport's Reef Runway.

Sixty divers from the Navy's Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One prepared the ship for its final relocation. These preparations included tapping into a diesel fuel tank on the ship to remove any remaining fuel, but the tank was empty. They also removed fishing gear, long lines and other material on deck. Internal doors, hatches and ports also were secured to prevent material inside the ship from escaping.

At the Kalaeloa final relocation site, two pingers will be placed on the Ehime Maru prior to its descent. The USS Salvor, a Navy salvage and rescue vessel, will track the pingers' signals and get a fix on the vessel's final position at the close of the operation.

Of the nine men and teen-age boys aboard the Ehime Maru when it sank, eight bodies were found and returned to their families. The body of Takeshi Mizuguchi, a 17-year-old Uwajima Fisheries High School student, remained missing when the search was called off Nov. 15.

Twenty-six others were rescued following the Feb. 9 accident. The Greeneville was demonstrating a rapid-surfacing drill for 16 visiting civilians when it struck the ship.

Cmdr. Scott Waddle, captain of the Greeneville, received an administrative punishment and was relieved of his command. The punishment was based on a recommendation by three admirals who sat on a rare Navy Court of Inquiry held in April.

Tomorrow, two families of the victims will finalize a decision to sue the federal government to get Waddle, his crew and the visitors aboard the Greeneville to appear in court.

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