Abe pays tribute to victims of 2001 Ehime Maru accident

Kyodo, JIJI

For the families of the victims, the memory of a fatal accident in Hawaii involving the fisheries training ship Ehime Maru will never fade.

“I’ll never forget in my lifetime,” said Tatsuyoshi Mizuguchi, 64, whose eldest son died along with eight others in the accident. Twenty-six other people on the vessel were rescued.

The ship sank after it was struck from below by the nuclear sub USS Greeneville off Oahu in February 2001 as the sub performed a rapid-surfacing drill for civilian guests.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in Hawaii to meet with President Barack Obama and visit the memorial to the Pearl Harbor attack, also visited a memorial for Ehime Maru victims in Honolulu on Monday.

“I’m delighted to know the prime minister cares about the accident even if time passed,” Mizuguchi said. “My daughter, who was in junior high school at the time of the accident, has already gotten married. I feel the passage of time.”

The body of his son, Takeshi, then 17, was never recovered, though all of the others were found. Mizuguchi said he has been repeatedly asked how he feels about his son’s body not being recovered. “But I never answered and will keep refusing to talk,” he said.

“I still keep in contact with people and officials in Hawaii who supported us right after the accident,” he added.

The Ehime Maru was from Uwajima Fisheries High School, run by the Ehime Prefectural Government. Four of those killed were teenage students.

Abe left flowers for the victims at the Ehime Maru Memorial in Kakaako Waterfront Park in Honolulu, which overlooks the accident site. At the center of the monument sits the anchor retrieved from the sunken training ship.

Abe was accompanied by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada.

After the 2001 accident, Japanese public sentiment toward the U.S. deteriorated because rescue assistance by the submarine crew was widely considered insufficient.

Then-President George W. Bush sent a special envoy to Japan to apologize to the bereaved families.

Abe dealt with the incident as deputy chief Cabinet secretary in Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s government.