First Ehime Maru corpse identified; two more found

Kyodo

Coroners on Wednesday identified the first body recovered from the Ehime Maru as divers found two more bodies inside the sunken Japanese ship off Hawaii.

This leaves six people unaccounted for among the nine who went missing after the ship was struck and sunk by a surfacing U.S. submarine in February.

The body recovered Tuesday was that of Hirotaka Segawa, 60, the Ehime Maru’s chief radio operator, an official of the Honolulu coroners’ office told a news conference Wednesday.

Segawa was a native of Kanagawa Prefecture and his relatives have been contacted.

His identity was confirmed through dental records his family submitted to the U.S. Navy; the cause of death was drowning, the coroners said.

Segawa’s remains were found through a video camera that filmed inside the ship while U.S. Navy divers were surveying the exterior of the ship, which lies about 35 meters underwater.

The divers then entered the ship, retrieved the remains and passed them to the coroners’ office.

The navy did not disclose exactly where the remains were found or the time they were retrieved, and instead placed priority on informing the families of the missing.

With the six still unaccounted for, the navy is continuing the search inside the fisheries training vessel, which belonged to Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture. Of the 35 people aboard the ship, four 17-year-old students of the school, two teachers and three crew members went down with the 499-ton ship when it was struck by the 6,080-ton Greeneville on Feb. 9.

The ship was moved from where it sank to a shallower site off Honolulu International Airport in a two-month salvage operation.

Ehime Vice Gov. Nobuyoshi Yano and Ietaka Horita, principal of Uwajima Fisheries High School, arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday to liaise between the navy and the victims’ families.

They said some of the families who are waiting in Japan for information from the U.S. Navy are preparing to depart for Honolulu.

“I am grateful to the workers who raised the vessel, but frankly speaking, I feel very sad,” Horita said of the recovery of a body Tuesday.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi telephoned the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet on Thursday to thank him for U.S. efforts to salvage the Ehime Maru.

“I would like to express my appreciation for the fact that you have been doing all you can to salvage the Ehime Maru,” a Japanese government official quoted Koizumi as saying in a brief telephone conversation with Adm. Thomas Fargo.