Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Updated at 5:11 p.m. February 11, 2001

Family members arrive in Hawai'i and await search

By Kenji Hall
Associated Press Writer

Relatives of the Japanese fishermen and students missing after their ship was rammed and sunk by a U.S. submarine brought their vigil to Hawai'i today as rescuers continued searching for their loved ones.

A family member wipes away tears after meeting with American and Japanese officials at the Honolulu International Airport.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

But hope dimmed as the Coast Guard and Navy found no signs of survivors nor major pieces of wreckage more than 48 hours after the collision in a search that covered more than 5,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

The Ehime Maru fishing vessel sank in 1,800 feet of water 10 minutes after it was struck by the USS Greeneville on Friday afternoon.

Thirty-four family members and officials traveled from Osaka to be with survivors and await word of the three crewmen, two teachers and four students who disappeared in the choppy waters where the ship sank.

U.S. officials said five Coast Guard and Navy aircraft and four vessels were conducting the search.

The Ehime Maru’s captain, Hisao Onishi, questioned why the 26 survivors had to wait 50 minutes to be rescued. The ship sank about 9 miles from Diamond Head and 20 miles southeast of Pearl Harbor.

A Coast Guard helicopter and plane reached the scene about 35 minutes after the collision. Patrol boats arrived about 15 minutes later, said Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Greg Fondran.

Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said choppy waters and the submarine’s round hull made opening the hatches too dangerous. Waves were three to four feet with a six-foot swell at the time, he said.

His head bowed and brushing back tears, Onishi said yesterday that seas were calm enough that water did not enter the life rafts.

“I could see several people on the (submarine) tower,” Onishi said. “They lowered a rope ladder from the conning tower, but none of our crew members were rescued by the submarine. ... They were just looking until the Coast Guard arrived,” he said.

“We did our best to find other survivors,” Onishi told reporters in Japanese. “We just couldn’t find the nine missing.”

The Greeneville, a nuclear-powered, Los Angeles-class attack submarine, carried 130 sailors and 15 civilians during a one-day training mission as part of a community relations program.

It collided with the ship while practicing an emergency surfacing procedure known as an “emergency blow” that resembles a whale breaching.

At a depth of about 60 feet, the submarine does periscope and acoustic searches for hazards, said Lt. Cmdr. Dave Werner, spokesman for Commander, Submarine Forces Pacific. If the water is found to be clear, the vessel returns to a greater depth and then surges to the surface, Werner said.

The Navy, Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating why the submarine — 360-foot long and weighing 6,900 tons — did not notice the 180-foot fishing ship. The Navy said it will inspect the submarine’s log books, any videotapes of periscope viewings and electronic records of any acoustics in the ocean.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the investigation will look at a number of things, including whether such training should take place farther off shore.
The submarine’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, was reassigned to the staff of Rear Adm. Al Konetzni Jr., commander of Submarine Forces Pacific, pending the outcome of the investigations.

Japan’s prime minister lodged a protest with the United States, demanding that the ship be raised from the ocean bottom, an official said.

Yoshiro Mori asked the United States to “use all available means” to reclaim the Ehime Maru in a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley, said Kazuhiko Koshikawa, Mori’s spokesman.

The national Asahi Shimbun newspaper said in a story Sunday Japan time that the accident will test the ability of President Bush to manage a crisis with Japan, one of its most important allies.

On today's news shows, Bush adminstration officials promised the United States will do everything possible to help the victims and their families.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said, “We are doing everything we can to express regret and make sure this doesn’t affect the very strong relationship with have with Japan.”

“It clearly was just a terrible tragedy and most unfortunate,” Rumsfeld said. “There’s no way to know in real time what happened pending the investigation.”

The Japanese families who arrived in Honolulu today were greeted by somber U.S. officers and Yoshitaka Sakurada, Japanese vice minister of foreign affairs. Coast Guard officials explained the status of the search and investigation.

Ietaka Horita, the principal of Uwajima Fisheries High School in southwestern Japan, said the reunion with surviving students yesterday was emotion-filled.

“We really didn’t exchange any words,” said Horita, who will remain in Hawai'i until all the rescued students return to Japan. “There was no need. A hug was all that was necessary. Men of the sea would understand.”

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