Navy Preps For Ehime Maru Recovery

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Navy divers and technical experts toured a Japanese fishing boat in preparation for the planned recovery of a similar vessel sunk by a U.S. submarine off Hawaii.

The Kagawa Maru was built from the same basic plans as the Ehime Maru, which sank in 2,000 feet of water after it was struck by the surfacing USS Greeneville nine miles south of Diamond Head on Feb. 9.

The Navy plans to move the Ehime Maru to 115-foot-deep waters off Honolulu International Airport in August or September in hopes of recovering the bodies of nine men and teen-age boys believed to be entombed inside.

A few dozen Navy sailors, some of them with video cameras, boarded the Kagawa Maru in Honolulu Harbor on Sunday to get an understanding of the challenges the team of roughly 60 U.S. and Japanese divers will face inside the Ehime Maru after it is brought closer to shore.

As was the Ehime Maru, the Kagawa Maru is used to train high school students for jobs in Japan's fisheries industry. It is in Hawaii this summer for a fishing expedition.

Salvage experts say the estimated $40 million recovery operation will require technical cunning and cooperative sea conditions. The Navy has never salvaged a ship the size of the 190-foot, 830-ton Ehime Maru from a depth as great as where it now lies.

"There is some probability that we will not successfully relocate Ehime Maru to shallower waters," said Rear Adm. William Klemm, who is overseeing the recovery operation. "However, the Navy is a can-do service and we are going to execute. We are going to do this."

Getting a look inside a nearly identical ship will be a great help to divers, Klemm said.

"As most folks know, when you look at a two-dimensional house plan, it's very difficult to imagine what the three-dimensional house looks like until you walk through it," he said.

But it's still not known exactly how intact they will find the Ehime Maru, Klemm said.

The first phase of the operation will be carried out using only remotely controlled equipment because divers can't safely go to a depth of 2,000 feet.

Oil field exploration equipment will be used to hoist the ship, with massive straps put in place by a remote-controlled submersible. The ship will then be dragged about a mile offshore to allow divers to search inside.

Navy officials said they hope to spend about a month rigging the ship, three to four days transporting it and about a month searching the interior.

"I think there is a very high likelihood that there will be remains to be recovered here," Klemm said. "We don't know whether we will find all nine missing crew members but we certainly have an expectation that we will find a number of them."

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