Navy’s No. 2 officer meets Mori, promises efforts to raise ship

In an effort to soothe Japanese public sentiment and contain damage to bilateral ties, a U.S. special envoy visited Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori on Tuesday and promised that the U.S. government will do its utmost to salvage a Japanese vessel that sank Feb. 9 off Hawaii after being hit by a U.S. submarine.

Adm. William Fallon, the No. 2 uniformed officer in the U.S. Navy, offered “apologies and sincere regret” to Mori for the accident. Nine people aboard the Ehime Maru, a ship owned by a fisheries training high school in Ehime Prefecture, remain missing and are presumed dead after it was sunk by the USS Greeneville.

During their 30-minute meeting at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, Fallon promised Mori that the U.S. will make the utmost efforts to raise the Ehime Maru, a Foreign Ministry official told reporters. The missing are believed to be trapped inside the vessel, which sank to the seabed, about 600 meters down.

Fallon made it clear that responsibility for the incident rests solely with the U.S. Navy and government, the official said.

The special envoy also delivered a letter from U.S. President George W. Bush to Mori in which Bush again expressed his “apologies and deep regret” and pledged the probe into the cause of the accident would be transparent, the official said.

In the letter, Bush termed the incident a “challenge to the solidarity of the U.S.-Japan relationship,” according to the official who briefed reporters in Japanese.

Mori told Fallon that Tokyo is ready to fully support the U.S. in salvaging the vessel, adding that the salvage attempt is of “grave concern for the Japanese people and myself,” the official said.

Mori also told the envoy that he expects a “thorough and transparent” investigation to take place at the upcoming U.S. court of inquiry, which has been postponed until March 5.

Fallon also told Mori that the U.S. government will offer compensation for the accident at an “appropriate time,” the official said.

“It’s my intention to use every opportunity while in Japan to convey apologies and sincere regret from the president of the United States and the Navy to the people of Japan,” Fallon told reporters after his meeting with Mori.

Fallon was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Foley, who postponed his return home because of the accident.

Fallon is scheduled to meet the families of those missing, as well as senior lawmakers in the ruling camp, today in Tokyo.

Upon his arrival earlier in the day at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, Fallon released a statement saying, “I sincerely and humbly request — on behalf of the United States government, the United States Navy and the American people — that the government and people of Japan accept our apology for the tragic loss of the Ehime Maru.”

“I know my words cannot express the profound sorrow and regret that the American people feel over this tragic event,” the statement said.

Salvaging decision

MATSUYAMA, Ehime Pref. (Kyodo) The United States will decide by around March 8 whether it is technically feasible to salvage the Japanese fisheries training ship that sank off Hawaii after being struck by a U.S. submarine, Ehime Gov. Moriyuki Kato said Tuesday.

Kato told reporters he was informed of the plan in a letter from Adm. Dennis Blair, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, sent to him through the Japanese Consul in Honolulu.

In the letter, which Kato received Tuesday morning, Blair apologized for the Feb. 9 accident and said the U.S. will continue taking every possible measure to find the nine Japanese aboard the Ehime Maru who are missing and are presumed dead, he said.

The letter was sent in response to one Kato handed to Blair upon his visit to Hawaii last week. Kato demanded in the letter that the U.S. raise the sunken ship as quickly as possible.

In his response, Blair guaranteed the U.S. Navy would thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and said he had informed Cmdr. Scott Waddle, the captain of the submarine, of the feelings of the relatives of the missing nine.

The families have demanded that Waddle, who was relieved of duty after the accident, directly apologize to them.

Kato said he appreciates the letter as it provides more hope than previous responses from the U.S. that the ship will be raised.

“The letter made me feel that the U.S. will salvage (the Ehime Maru), and it contained forward-looking responses,” he said.

“I can feel the good faith of Adm. Blair because he told former Cmdr. Waddle that (the families and relatives of the nine missing people) request he apologize (for the accident),” the governor said.