Ship Recovery Efforts Under Way

Firefighters protect homes from an advancing brush fire in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles on in this May 8, 2007 file photo.
AP Photo/Dan Steinberg
A remotely operated vehicle has been lowered 2,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean as part of an effort to recover bodies and other items from a Japanese fishing vessel sunk by a U.S. Navy submarine in February.

The Phoenix III, part of the Navy-contracted Ocean Hercules, is about nine miles south of Waikiki. The remotely operated vehicle has surveyed the sunken vessel and cut some wires from the mast so it can be removed later, U.S. Pacific Fleet officials said Wednesday.

The Phoenix III, which was lowered into the ocean over the weekend, is also removing cargo nets, fishing gear and other equipment that may become a hazard to ocean life, the Navy said.

The crew of 45 workers aboard the Ocean Hercules are preparing the Ehime Maru to be moved to shallower water by another ship. Japanese and Navy divers will then attempt to locate the bodies and belongings of nine Japanese men and boys believed to be inside.

The $40 million recovery operation poses dangers to the salvage crew because of the depth of the fishing vessel and the damage done when the USS Greeneville rammed the ship off Hawaii, Pacific Fleet officials said.

"We are confident we can successfully conduct this operation, but it's not without risks, and there is no guarantee of success," Pacific Fleet spokesman Jon Yoshishige said. "Damage to Ehime Maru might be greater than we anticipated, and therefore there'd be a greater danger to the divers or the ship might not be able to be moved to the shallow-water site intact."

The Navy has never recovered a ship the size of the 190-foot, 830-ton Ehime Maru from such depths. Salvage experts say the operation will require cooperative sea conditions.

By Jaymes Song
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