Saturday, February 10, 2001
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Updated at 2:34 p.m. Saturday, February 10, 2001

Navy apologizes as hope for survivors fade

By Glenn Scott, Mike Gordon and Scott Ishikawa
Advertiser Staff Writers

U.S. Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U. S. Pacific Fleet, met with a top Japanese foreign ministry official in Honolulu this morning and formally apologized for the accidental sinking of a Japanese fishing training ship, the Ehime Maru.

With more than 35 journalists, most of them Japanese, squeezed into a parlor at the Japanese Consulate to record the first few minutes of the meeting, Fargo entered and immediately told Yoshitake Sakurada, vice minister of foreign affairs, that he had come to express his “deepest regrets.”

Speaking firmly but carefully, he assured Sakurada, who had arrived about an hour earlier from Tokyo, that U.S. forces were involved in a “very concentrated effort” to find the nine people who remain missing since the USS Greeneville submarine collided on Friday with the training ship.

After the pair spoke privately for another 30 minutes, Fargo left without public comment. But Sakurada stood on the porch of the facility and told Japanese media crews that Fargo had offered a complete apology and had admitted that the U.S. sub had been 100 percent at fault in the tragic event.

Another Japanese official, Koji Haneda, a division director for the ministry’s North American affairs bureau, said some family members of the men on the ship were expected to start arriving in Honolulu on Sunday. He did not specify how many were likely to arrive or whether they might be related to those who are missing.

By 2 p.m. yesterday, none of the missing boaters had been found as Coast Guard officials continued their search for nine Japanese nationals who have not been seen since their fishing training vessel sunk after the collision.

In their fullest explanation yet about the accident, Navy officials said today that the Japanese training vessel was hit by the tail of the USS Greenville yesterday afternoon when the nuclear submarine was surfacing in the waters 10 miles south of Diamond Head.

Fargo said the submarine was surfacing through what’s known as a “emergency main ballast blow” in which the submarine surfaces quickly after scanning the surface waters with the periscope.

But the reason why the collision occurred is under investigation, Fargo said.

The Navy, the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are involved in the investigation.

The submarine returned to Pearl Harbor this morning. Observers could see damage to its rudder.

The Ehime Maru, was a vessel used to train Japanese high school students. It sank after the USS Greeneville surfaced nine miles off Oahu and struck the hull of the ship.

The fishing vessel sank in 10 minutes. The Coast Guard rescued 26 of the 35 aboard and brought them back to Oahu.

The Greeneville was on a routine cruise which left Pearl Harbor 8 a.m. yesterday and was to return 3 p.m., according to Jon Yoshishige, Navy spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

In addition to the crew, 15 civilians and one military person were on the cruise to observe operations as part of the Navy’s community relations campaign, he said.

As part of the campaign, the Navy normally and routinely escorts business leaders, lawmakers and others on the regularly scheduled cruises, Yoshishige said.

The Navy did not disclose the names of the civilians aboard.

Instead of returning yesterday afternoon, the Greeneville remained at sea overnight and participated in rescue efforts, Yoshishige said.

There was some damage to the port side of the submarine, a scrape of some kind, but its exact location was not known to Navy officials, according to Commander Bruce Cole, Navy spokesman.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Lauren Smith this morning said the Coast Guard since yesterday afternoon has searched more than 1,453 square miles, or larger than the land mass of Rhode Island.

“We remain hopeful that there are survivors and we will continue our search,” Smith said as of 8:05 a.m.

<PB>According to the Coast Guard, the Ehime Maru sank in waters 1,866 feet deep, 10 miles south of Diamond Head.

The weather <P>today <PB>at the scene was 18 miles an hour <P>winds from the northeast <PB>in three to five foot seas. The water temperature was 77 degrees, the Coast Guard said.

Along with Coast Guard and Navy ships and planes, a Japanese training vessel, the Nippon Maru, will assist in the search. The Nippon Maru is operated by the Ministry of Transport in Japan and currently visiting Honolulu Harbor.

Three of four survivors taken to Straub Hospital yesterday — two 17-year-old boys and a 51-year-old man — were released late last night. Another 22-year-old man remains hospitalized but was upgraded to good condition this morning, a hospital spokeswoman said.

All eight survivors taken to Kaiser Moanalua were released last night.
American Red Cross spokeswoman Jocelyn Collado said the other 14 rescued are staying at the Ala Moana Hotel.

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