Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, November 12, 2001

Ehime diving mission a diplomatic coup

There's no question that the Feb. 9 sinking of the Ehime Maru will leave an indelible black mark on the U.S. Navy in Hawai'i.

But perhaps it's time to salute the Navy and Japanese divers who risked their lives to recover the nine crew members who drowned when the USS Greeneville submarine rammed their Japanese training vessel.

The U.S.-led diving mission ended Tuesday with the recovery of eight of the nine drowned crew members. The body of 17-year-old Takeshi Mizuguchi remains missing.

Divers spent more than 300 hours underwater. They plunged several decks down inside the 830-ton ship to look for bodies, dodging tangled nets, mattresses and other debris.

Their efforts created warm feelings in the chilly aftermath of the disaster. Relatives sent letters expressing profound gratitude to the Navy and the people of Hawai'i.

"When we were so saddened after the accident, many people helped and supported us," five family members wrote.

In another letter, the widow of Jun Nakata, a 33-year-old Japanese teacher, thanked Rear Adm. William Klemm and "the people of the U.S. Navy who considered the nine missing as though they were members of their own families and continued their efforts in salvaging the Ehime Maru, despite the worldwide tensions that occurred after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington."

But aside from bringing warm feelings and closure to most of the victims' families, the recovery mission has become something of a diplomatic coup, particularly in light of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that left the United States in dire need of global allies.

Under a new law that allows Japan's Self-Defense Forces to participate in a backup role in the U.S.-led war, Japan has sent a flotilla of warships on a reconnaissance mission to the Indian Ocean in preparation for a planned dispatch of other naval units.

The good feelings generated by the operation in Hawai'i may have helped defuse political opposition in Japan to the mission. At a minimum, its success took away a rallying cause that opponents might otherwise have used.

Meanwhile, here in Hawai'i, plans are under way for an Ehime Maru memorial in Kaka'ako Waterfront Park. The structure is likely to incorporate an anchor from the sunken fisheries training vessel.

The memorial will be a constant reminder of that ill-fated collision. But let it also remind us of the brave efforts of the Navy and Japanese divers who faced peril to bring the Ehime Maru victims home.