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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 8, 2001

Navy mulls moving Ehime Maru to waters off airport

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

Salvage experts want to move the Ehime Maru to waters off the Honolulu Airport's reef runway, but are still considering two alternative sites off the 'Ewa coast, the Navy said yesterday.

The Japanese fishing vessel, which sank after being rammed by the submarine USS Greeneville in February, lies beneath 2,003 feet of water.

Nine people, including four teenage boys, were killed in the collision, and their bodies may still be trapped in the ship. Their relatives have asked that the bodies be recovered.

Partially raising the Ehime Maru from its location nine miles south of Diamond Head, then moving it to water shallow enough for divers to safely work in, could cost as much as $40 million.

The decision to salvage cannot be made until the Navy completes an environmental assessment of potential harm to the ocean, said Jon Yoshishige, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

"No decision to proceed has been made," Yoshishige said. "We anticipate the environmental assessment to be completed in June."

There is a small window of optimal sea and weather conditions during late summer, he said.

Yoshishige said the three potential destinations for the ship include a site roughly one mile south of the reef runway; one mile west of Barbers Point Deep Draft Harbor; and one mile south of 'Ewa Beach.

"It's looking like the preferred alternative will be the reef runway site, but the environmental assessment isn't done yet, and things can change," he said. "The other sites may not work because of environmental reasons, security and the distance from where the Ehime Maru now lies."

The reef runway location is closest to the fishing vessel, which is about 14 nautical miles away.

"The best site would have a flat, sandy bottom, be about 100 feet deep and have minimal tidal flow," he said.

Mike Gordon can be reached by phone at 525-8012, or by e-mail at mgordon@honoluluadvertiser.com