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Rough seas off Diamond Head have delayed by about a week the operation to lift the Ehime Maru, the Japanese fisheries training ship struck and sunk by a U.S. Navy submarine in February, a Navy official said Tuesday.

The Navy had planned to begin as early as next Monday moving the ship to a depth where divers can search for missing crew members.

But high waves, which have topped 3 meters, have slowed preparations by the salvage ship Rockwater 2 to rig the sunken ship.

A spokesman from the National Atmospheric and Oceanographic Administration in Honolulu confirmed that waves have been higher than normal for the past several days and that the conditions would likely affect all ocean-going vessels.

Due to the adverse conditions, which make it difficult for smaller boats to bring supplies to the Rockwater 2, the salvage ship pulled into Honolulu Harbor on Monday to load and unload its own supplies and equipment.

It spent four hours in the harbor before returning to the site — about 14 km off Diamond Head — and resuming work.

The Navy is overseeing efforts to lift the Ehime Maru from its present depth of about 600 meters and transport it to a shallow shoal off Honolulu International Airport, where divers will attempt to retrieve the missing Japanese who may have become entombed after the collision.

Although nine of the 35 people aboard the 499-ton Ehime Maru were lost in the collision, including four students from Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, Navy officials believe that only five to seven of the missing were trapped. The others were presumably lost at sea.

Rear Adm. William Klemm said earlier at a news conference that the navy may be able to insert two flexible steel plates under the sunken ship and lift it by Monday at the earliest.

Despite the weather-related delay, the official said the navy is optimistic that the operation will be completed well before the latest projected date in mid-September.

Relatives’ request

MATSUYAMA, Ehime Pref. (Kyodo) Relatives of three people who were lost at sea after the Feb. 9 collision between the Ehime Maru and a U.S. submarine in waters off Hawaii have sent a letter requesting the U.S. Navy to disclose detailed information on the salvage of the ship, the relatives said Wednesday.

The three relatives are Ryosuke Terata, 45, father of Yusuke, 17; Kazuo Nakata, 55, father of Jun, 33; and Otoyoshi Furuya, brother of Toshimichi, 47.

The letter asks for a response by Saturday, when the navy will brief relatives in Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture, on the progress of the salvage operation.

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