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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 6:30 a.m., Thursday, August 30, 2001

Navy plans second lift of Ehime Maru stern

Advertiser Staff

A construction support ship, the Rockwater 2, is working to relocate the Ehime Maru to shallower waters.

Associated Press photo

The Navy plans to lift the Ehime Maru stern a second time to adjust a snagged wire that will be used to help move the sunken Japanese vessel to shallow water.

A team of Navy and civilian engineers successfully lifted the Ehime Maru by its rudder last night and pulled two messenger wires under the hull of the 830-ton ship.

The lift, part of a backup plan adopted last week when drilling under the hull failed, lasted nearly eight hours before the ship was placed back on the sea bed.

But after the pulled two wires were in place under the ship, the Navy discovered using a remote operated vehicle that the forward wire needed adjustment.

The Navy said the wires, which will be used to pull two plates under the ship so it can be lifted off the ocean floor, must be placed precisely to lift the vessel safely from its location 2,000 feet underwater.

The second lift will be attempted later today or early tomorrow, the Navy said.

The initial lift operation apparently caused no damage to the Ehime Maru, the Navy said, although some diesel fuel from the vessel may have escaped. A Coast Guard helicopter estimated tess than two gallons of diesel fuel appeared in the area near the operation, but it was expected to evaporate "within hours or days," according to the Navy.

The wreck lies in water about nine miles south of Diamond Head. It sank Feb. 9 after being struck by the submarine USS Greeneville during a surfacing drill.

Nine people went down with the Ehime Maru and their remains may be trapped inside the hull.

The Navy wants to recover their bodies, but must first move the ship to water shallow enough for divers. Such a move has never been done before.

Lifting the ship is necessary if the Navy is to sucessfully move the Ehime Maru. The work is being conducted from Rockwater 2, a civilian vessel contracted to move the Ehime Maru.

Although the full extent of damage to the Ehime Maru is not known, the collision with the Greeneville severely damaged the hull of the ship, which sits upright on the sea bed. Lifting the vessel by its stern requires caution.

A Navy feasibility study in April cautioned that such a lift would create "a bending moment" that could place "compressive stresses" and buckle parts of the ship.

Because the Ehime Maru still may contain as much as 45,000 gallons of diesel fuel, a vessel with skimming equipment has been on standby.