HONOLULU – A salvage ship contracted by the U.S. Navy arrived here Wednesday morning to join in the operation to raise the Japanese fisheries training vessel Ehime Maru, sunk in February in a collision with a surfacing U.S. submarine, to more shallow water.
The Rockwater 2 is the second ship to arrive in Hawaii to lay the groundwork for what is hoped to be the retrieval of the remains of nine crew members, including four high school students from Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, who are believed entombed in the vessel, which lies 600 meters under the surface.
The submersible Ocean Hercules was dispatched last month to clear the ship’s hull of cargo nets and other obstacles, including the center mast, which was removed in preparation for the ship’s move to a shoal off Honolulu International Airport.
The 5,991-ton Rockwater 2, a multipurpose support vessel, will be used as the platform from which two remotely operated submersibles and drilling equipment can be maneuvered to rig and move the sunken ship.
The salvage ship is scheduled to load salvage equipment from Honolulu Harbor before sailing, probably Friday, to the scene where the Ehime Maru went down on Feb. 9.
According to U.S. Navy authorities, the salvage operation involves using a special drilling machine to open a hole under the Ehime Maru in order to place two steel bars under the ship.
The submersibles would then be used to tie the steel bars with chains for the salvage ship to lift up the 499-ton Ehime Maru.
Once the Rockwater 2 begins work at the site, two technical experts from Japan will be on hand to offer advice should their recommendations about the Ehime Maru’s structure be needed.
One of the experts is an Ehime Prefecture-based representative from Shinkurushima Dock, the company that built the Ehime Maru.
If the structural damage does not impede the lift and the rigging mechanism is successfully secured, the Ehime Maru would be transported while suspended about 30 meters above the ocean floor until placed at a new depth of about 35 meters.
The next phase of the salvage operation, set to start in early September, involves an underwater search by a team of divers from the U.S. Navy and the Maritime Self-Defense Force.
The divers will be sent down to retrieve any remains, personal effects or other items, such as the anchor or nameplate that may be used as a memorial.
After the monthlong search is completed, the U.S. Navy plans to remove the Ehime Maru from the shoal and sink it in deeper waters off Hawaii.
The Ehime Maru was struck and sunk by the USS Greeneville, which was conducting an emergency surfacing maneuver for a group of civilian guests aboard.
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