Defense Agency chief Gen Nakatani on Wednesday ordered the dispatch of about 130 Maritime Self-Defense Force members to Hawaii to assist the U.S. Navy in salvaging the Japanese fisheries training ship Ehime Maru.
The agency said the dispatch is in response to a request from Ehime Gov. Moriyuki Kato and the head of the Japan Coast Guard.
The MSDF mission, including 30 divers, will depart Friday for Oahu Island from the MSDF’s Kure base in Hiroshima Prefecture aboard the submarine-rescue ship Chihaya, agency officials said.
In early September, the mission will join hands with the U.S. Navy to start looking for the remains of nine people aboard the Ehime Maru who were killed when the 499-ton ship was hit and sunk by a surfacing U.S. submarine about 14 km off Diamond Head on Feb. 9.
The bodies of the nine, including four students from Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, are believed to be entombed in the ship.
The United States had asked Japan to send such a mission to check the belongings of the crew members and Japanese markings inside the sunken vessel, the agency officials said.
Japanese and U.S. naval personnel have already inspected similar training ships, the officials said, adding they will continue their training in Hawaii.
The salvage ship Rockwater 2 on Tuesday headed out to the site where the Ehime Maru sank in a bid to move the sunken vessel to shallow waters for an underwater search of the ship’s interior.
The Rockwater 2, which arrived in Honolulu on Aug. 1, spent a week at Honolulu Harbor to prepare for the complex salvage operation, which involves hoisting the Ehime Maru up from the ocean floor 600 meters deep and moving it to a shallow shoal.
Two Japanese technical experts are among the crew of about 100 navy and other personnel involved in the salvage operation.
Isshin Fujii, a representative of Shin Kurushima Dockyards Co., the company that constructed the Ehime Maru, and Hiroyasu Takemoto of the Japanese government’s National Maritime Research Institute, went to sea with the crew to advise on the Ehime Maru’s structural integrity once it is lifted from the sea floor.
Thus far, the damage caused by the collision has not been fully assessed and cannot be done so until submersibles can conduct a survey from under the ship, officials say. The U.S. Navy believes there is an 80 percent chance of successfully raising the ship and moving it to comparatively shallow water.
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