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The U.S. Navy has altered its plans to raise the Ehime Maru but remains optimistic it can complete the operation by mid-September, the Navy’s salvage supervisor announced Wednesday.

A U.S. Navy Web graphic shows the new plan for raising the Ehime Maru.

The 499-ton Japanese high school fisheries training vessel was accidentally sunk by a surfacing U.S. submarine off Honolulu in February and lies about 600 meters below the surface about 14 km off Oahu Island.

Capt. Bert Marsh said efforts to tunnel underneath the sunken ship have proved unsuccessful and the new plan will require lifting the ship from its stern so that two steel plates can be placed under the hull.

The Navy will then rig and transport the ship to shallow waters off Honolulu International Airport, where divers will attempt to retrieve the remains and personal effects of the nine missing crew members.

Under the initial plan launched Aug. 15, the Navy used a “coil tube drill” with high-pressure water jets to burrow a tunnel under the ship and make way for wires that would eventually pull the lift plates underneath the trawler.

However, Marsh said the tube has only moved in a straight line, rather than penetrating the surface to connect with the wires.

“When we have tried to turn the tube, we have either been able to hit the hull of the Ehime Maru or we have gotten out past it instead of continuing to turn and to get back over again,” he said at the news conference.

Despite the change in operations, Marsh said he does not anticipate any significant delays and expects to have the plates in place by mid-September, the latest projected completion date.

The lift will be conducted from the surface by the Navy-contracted salvage ship Rockwater 2. The 5,991-ton salvage ship arrived in Honolulu on Wednesday morning and is expected to remain in port for several days until new equipment required for the lift is loaded onto the vessel.

Meanwhile, Navy officials remain optimistic, saying the operation still has an 80 percent chance of success.

Japanese and U.S. diplomatic sources said earlier Wednesday in Washington that the salvage of the Ehime Maru had been delayed due to technical problems related to the drilling operation. The sources explained the altered plan but did not indicate a new time frame.

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