At the request of the U.S. Navy, the government is considering sending divers from the Maritime Self-Defense Force to help raise the fisheries training ship accidentally sunk off Hawaii on Feb. 9 by a U.S. submarine, government officials said Monday.
“I hope to cooperate (with the salvaging) as much as possible, bearing in mind the feelings of the survivors of the accident,” Defense Agency Vice Minister Ken Sato told reporters. “The details are being coordinated with the U.S. Navy.”
The agency will work out details of the plan to clarify a legal basis for the dispatch of MSDF members, the Japanese officials said.
Japan usually only sends MSDF members abroad in special cases such as U.N. peacekeeping operations.
U.S. Navy sources said Sunday the navy decided to ask the MSDF to join the salvage effort as qualified MSDF divers could be essential.
The sources said the navy plans to raise the Ehime Maru around the end of this summer from a depth of 600 meters to about 30 meters. The operation aims to confirm that some of the nine Japanese lost at sea in the accident went down with the ship.
The navy is currently conducting an environmental assessment of the salvage operation, the sources said.
Raising the 499-ton ship is a complex task and there is a danger it could collapse while being towed. Hazards faced by divers within the sunken vessel could also lead to termination of the operation.
The Ehime Maru was hit after the USS Greeneville conducted a rapid-surfacing drill for the benefit of a civilian group it was carrying.
Of the 35 people aboard the ship, 26 were rescued, but nine, including four students from Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, were lost at sea.
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