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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 30, 2001

Navy tries backup plan in lifting Ehime Maru

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Floating 2,000 feet above the Ehime Maru, engineers yesterday attempted to lift it briefly by its rudder, a critical step in the rigging process that must succeed if the Navy is to move the ship to shallow water.

A construction support ship, the Rockwater 2, will attempt to raise the Ehime Maru, which was sunk Feb. 9 by the USS Greeneville.

Associated PressBy Mike Gordon

Yesterday's lift was part of a backup plan adopted when the Navy could not drill holes under the ship's hull for the rigging equipment.

Jon Yoshishige, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, said the lift began at 5:30 p.m. He could not say if there were any problems with the lift or if the procedure was adding damage to the ship's battered hull.

The Navy wants to recover the remains of nine people whose bodies are thought to be trapped inside the hull after the Ehime Maru, a Japanese fisheries training vessel, was rammed by the USS Greeneville during a surfacing drill in February. To do that, it must move the ship to 115 feet while it is still submerged, a task that has never been done.

The lift yesterday was being done from Rockwater 2, a civilian vessel contracted to move the Ehime Maru to shallow water.

Because the Ehime Maru still may contain as much as 45,000 gallons of diesel fuel, a vessel with skimming equipment was on standby not far from Rockwater 2, Yoshishige said. Two other similar vessels could also be sent if necessary, he said.

The lift is designed to allow two lengths of braided steel cable to be placed beneath the 830-ton vessel by remotely operated submersibles.

Placing the cable is a critical part of the project and will allow engineers to then pull two large lifting plates under the wreck.

"They will work as long as it takes to get the wires under there," Yoshishige.

He had no estimate of how long that would take.

The head of the Navy's salvage plan, Capt. Bert Marsh, said last week that the lift could take a few hours, but it needed to be done as quickly as possible.

Lifting the Ehime Maru by its rudder was not the first choice.

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.

Should the lift fail or somehow damage the ship, the Navy does not have another plan.

The Ehime Maru sank Feb. 9 after being rammed by the Greeneville about nine miles south of Diamond Head. Five crew members and four high school students went down with the vessel.

Navy officials have told relatives of the victims that they would recover the bodies if the task was possible.

Reach Mike Gordon at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8012.