Ship salvage to continue despite problems


The U.S. Navy said it will push on with its salvage operation of the Ehime Maru, a Japanese fisheries training ship that sunk after colliding with a U.S. submarine in February, despite a series of setbacks.

“I am here to tell you that the U.S. Navy is fully committed to the execution of the recovery of the Ehime Maru, and nothing that has transpired to this point makes that mission any more difficult than it was from the beginning,” said Rear Adm. William Klemm, who leads the recovery operation, said Thursday.

The U.S. Navy has been overseeing efforts to raise the high school fisheries training ship from a depth of about 600 meters to shallow waters where divers can retrieve the remains of the nine missing crew members, some of whom are believed to be entombed inside.

For more than a week, however, the Navy’s efforts to position a lead wire crucial to the rigging process have been hit with problems, including two lifting mechanisms that broke at different times.

Klemm said the “snags” that have occurred so far have been learning experiences in what he called a complex salvage operation.

He was upbeat that the operation would be a success.

“I would like to state that myself and the team of Japanese experts, U.S. Navy experts and contractor experts have reviewed the calculations and the operation, and we are more confident today that we will be successful than we have been at any point in this operation,” he said.

Since the salvage operations began, the Navy has learned that the structure of the Ehime Maru is much stronger than originally anticipated and that the ship contains much less fuel than previously believed.

The structure strength of the ship and the amount of fuel it carried were two unknown factors that technicians faced going into the operation.

The Rockwater 2, the salvage ship, returned to port Wednesday to replace a lifting plate that split. It was due to return to the work site Friday.

The 499-ton Ehime Maru was struck and sunk Feb. 9 by the 6,080-ton U.S. nuclear-powered submarine Greeneville while the sub was demonstrating an emergency surfacing maneuver for a group of civilian passengers.

Nine of the 35 people aboard the ship, including four high school students from Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, are among the missing. However, the Navy now believes that only five to seven of the missing remain inside the ship.