HONOLULU – The leader of the salvage operation for the Japanese training ship Ehime Maru confirmed Thursday that the U.S. Navy expects to recover no more than seven of the nine Japanese lost when the ship was hit and sunk by a surfacing U.S. submarine off Hawaii in February.
“By the placement of those individuals as they were last seen, we have probably a fairly strong likelihood that some of them are not aboard the ship” when it rapidly sank, Rear Adm. William Klemm said at a news conference. “There is a distinct possibility that several are lost (at sea).”
Klemm, the U.S. Navy’s deputy chief of staff for fleet maintenance, is in charge of efforts to move the sunken ship from its position 600 meters below sea level to a shallow shoal near the Honolulu airport. Divers will then search the ship for remains and personal effects.
While Klemm expects to recover those spotted on the lowest decks, where they likely became trapped during the ship’s rapid descent, he believes several others seen on the upper decks are likely to be lost at sea.
On Thursday, crews transferred the Ehime Maru’s center and forward masts from a navy-contracted salvage ship that had removed them and other debris from the vessel’s decks over the past two weeks in preparation for the salvage operation.
The center mast broke into several pieces after its initial collision with the submarine USS Greeneville and later impact with the ocean floor, Klemm said, adding the forward mast remained intact.
Both masts were transported early Thursday morning from Honolulu Harbor and taken to an undisclosed navy location.
Klemm’s concerns now rest with the unknown condition of the bottom of the boat, which likely sustained serious damage in the collision and impact with the ocean floor.
So far, the remotely operated vehicle that has been clearing and surveying the site has not been able to examine the extent of the damage. Clear pictures will not be available until the boat is lifted off the ocean floor.
While the navy will terminate the salvage operation if it determines the structural damage is too severe, Klemm and other officers remain optimistic.
“I would say that the entire mission has an 80 percent success probability,” Klemm said. “When we average all the risks throughout the entire project about 20 percent is our risk of failure.”
Klemm added the Rockwater 2, a multipurpose diving support vessel that arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday, will be dispatched to the site, located about 14 km off Diamond Head, to begin work as early as Monday or Tuesday.
The navy hopes to lift the boat by Aug. 20 and begin recovery efforts by early September.
Nine of the 35 people aboard the ship were lost in the collision, including four students from Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, which owned the ship.
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