• Kyodo

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The captain of a Maritime Self-Defense Force ship that arrived here Monday to help the U.S. Navy salvage a sunken Japanese fisheries training ship said he believes the salvage work will be challenging. “We have never experienced putting people at the bottom of the ocean to do recovery work,” Capt. Masao Kuramoto said at a news conference Monday afternoon.

Kuramoto leads a crew of about 130 aboard the Chihaya, a submarine-rescue ship, which will support the navy’s efforts to transport the Ehime Maru from its current depth of about 600 meters to a shallow shoal off Honolulu International Airport.

The 5,450-ton Chihaya is equipped with deep-sea rescue apparatus and search sonar, as well as a decompression chamber. The ship is also transporting the Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle, which can raise objects weighing up to 100 kg.

Navy divers will then be dispatched to search for the remains and personal effects of the nine missing crew members of the 499-ton Ehime Maru, including four high school students.

After the navy completes its recovery, about 30 MSDF divers will enter the ship to make a final inspection before the vessel is permanently sunk in international waters.

Kuramoto said one of the greatest challenges will be navigating the ship’s narrow corridors, which may have sustained heavy damage, as none of the divers have experience in conducting searches inside vessels.

But the captain said recovering the remains of the missing crew members for their families is still his highest objective.

The Chihaya left its base in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, on Aug. 10 and is expected to remain in Hawaii until the end of October.

The Ehime Maru, from Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, was struck and sunk Feb. 9 by the USS Greeneville while the 6,080-ton submarine was demonstrating an emergency surfacing maneuver for a group of civilian guests.

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