Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, February 11, 2001

Vessel sank in high-use sub zone

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Ehime Maru sank in a well-traveled area and most likely settled on the ocean floor not far from where it went down, according to local oceanographers.

Roger Lukas, a professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, said that while ocean currents in the area are marked by a high degree of uncertainty and unpredictability, the currents on Friday probably were not strong enough to carry the sinking vessel very far.

Eddies normally found in the waters as well as currents caused by recent shifts of winds from the east to the south may have had some impact on the ship’s ultimate resting spot.

"It may not have landed on the bottom straight down, but the currents aren’t generally so strong that it would have gone a great distance," he said.

Sunken ships typically land right-side-up, so the damaged underside of the Ehime Maru may be difficult to see during the initial investigation, Lukas said.

Lukas also noted that the Ehime Maru was in a submarine transit lane that is well marked on maps and known to those who work off the Oahu coast.

"Anybody who is navigating around the Hawaiian Islands responsibly has a set of charts and these submarine lanes are marked clearly on those," Lukas said. "There’s a general sense that you are supposed to exercise caution in these areas.

UH researchers get permission from the Navy to work in the submarine area and let the Navy know when they will be there, Lukas said. If the Ehime Maru was conducting any over-the-side operations, it would have needed permission from the U.S. Navy to do so, Lukas said.

Rick Grigg, also a professor of oceanography at UH, said the Ehime Maru sank in a well-traveled area. "I think there’s more surface traffic than sub traffic in that area," Grigg said. "That’s right where boats go back and forth between the Islands."

Friday’s conditions were choppy but normal for winter, with swells generated by trade winds, Grigg said. Submarine periscopes are supposed to do a 360-degree sweep of the area three times before surfacing, he said.

"I suppose with the choppiness their visibility could have been lessened, but it wasn’t that choppy," Grigg said. "If they say it’s because of the choppiness I would worry about more of these accidents happening."

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