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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Families consider Ehime Maru claims

 •  A Tribute to the Missing
 •  Previous stories

By Tanya Bricking
Advertiser Staff Writer

The U.S. Navy is sending a team to meet today in the harbor town of Uwajima, Japan, with families of those killed two months ago when the USS Greeneville struck a training vessel from Uwajima Fisheries High School.

The military liaison team, from the Pacific Fleet's Commander Naval Forces and Naval Legal Services offices, will guide families through the complicated process of seeking claims for lost lives.

Armed with translated claims questionnaires and answers to legal questions, the team will begin talks about compensation with families of four students, two teachers and three crew members lost at sea in the submarine's collision with the Ehime Maru, Navy spokesman Jon Yoshishige said.

The compensation talks follow a meeting the families had three days ago with Moriyuki Kato, the governor of the Ehime prefecture in southwestern Japan, in which families said they no longer want the Ehime Maru to be raised to shore.

Since the Feb. 9 tragedy, families have demanded that the wreckage be brought to the surface so they could claim the remains of the loved ones they believe may be entombed in the ship 2,003 feet below.

The families now are asking that the ship be raised to a level safe enough for divers to recover personal belongings and possibly bodies, said Uwajima Mayor Hirohisa Ishibashi, who attended Saturday's meeting. They are not asking that the ship be brought to the surface.

"They want to make the salvage, but they're not insisting to save the ship," Ishibashi said. "They want to have anything which concerns the families, but they don't want to have any damage to the nature in Hawai'i."

The Navy is continuing research, which could take several months, to determine what environmental impact a recovery effort would have.

The Ehime Maru had the capacity to carry 90,250 gallons of diesel fuel and 3,316 gallons of lube oil, and it had large refrigerators on board, all of which have the potential to leak. While the ship was not carrying its full capacity, researchers must determine how much danger lifting the ship poses to the environment.

"The Navy is trying to do this as expeditiously as they can," Yoshishige said. "But an environmental assessment is a complex thing, so they're trying to do it comprehensively and correctly."

The shift in the families' attention to recover personal items doesn't change the Navy's plans, he said.

If the environmental assessment clears the way, the Ehime Maru will be lifted to shallower water where divers can reach it. Researchers would then use remote-controlled robots with cameras to survey the wreckage. The Navy has estimated that effort could cost $40 million.

What to do with the ship after that has not been determined.

The victims' families are from the island of Shikoku, known as the center of Shingon Buddhism. Following Buddhist beliefs, retrieving bodies can bring closure to families' reality of death. Two months have passed since the Ehime Maru sank, and memorial services remain on hold.

But it's still possible for spirits of the missing to rest in peace, said Alfred Bloom, professor emeritus of the University of Hawai'i at Manoa's religion department.

"When the family finally accepts that the person has died, Buddhism has services that can pacify the spirit," he said. "They have memorial services. They chant the sutra, or whatever that tradition prescribes."

The Japanese culture embraces stories about wandering spirits and hungry ghosts, Bloom said, but it also has ceremonies close to the Western concept of funerals.

"The way I look at it," Bloom said, "is that there are all these rituals to try to assure people everything's going to be OK."