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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Cost, delay won't halt salvage of Ehime Maru

 •  Advertiser special: Collision at Sea

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Navy should know in a week to 10 days whether engineers can lift and move the Ehime Maru, the admiral in charge of the Pacific fleet told Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawai'i) yesterday.

Although $20 million over budget and delayed by two weeks, the ambitious project nonetheless drew strong support yesterday from Inouye and the rest of the state's congressional delegation.

And the prospect of a U.S. war on terrorism did not outweigh the importance of a promise made to Japanese officials to raise the ship, which rests in 2,000 feet of water south of O'ahu. Navy and civilian engineers want to move the ship to shallower water so divers can recover the remains of nine people possibly trapped inside the ship.

"The state of affairs we are in should not stop us from doing what is right," Inouye said. "And we think this is right."

Inouye said he spoke yesterday with Adm. Thomas Fargo, the Pearl Harbor-based commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

"They are doing their utmost to successfully bring it up," Inouye said. "They think they can do it, and they would like a little more patience."

The Navy originally estimated the project would cost $40 million but announced Friday that it had already spent roughly $60 million.

Inouye said the growing cost should not deter the effort. But insurmountable engineering problems could end the salvage and recovery project, he said.

"We will continue," Inouye said. "We have already, as far as money goes, spent quite a sum. But we want to make certain that everything that can be done, will be done."

The salvage and recovery is being described as a humanitarian mission, but it also will help the Navy save face after creating an international incident. The Ehime Maru, a Japanese fisheries training vessel, was steaming out to sea Feb. 9 when it was rammed from below by the submarine USS Greeneville during a surfacing drill.

The incident strained U.S.-Japan relations when it was discovered that the nuclear submarine had performed the drill for civilian guests. Not long afterward, the Navy said it would recover remains if it was technically feasible.

Rep. Patsy Mink (D-Hawai'i), said the Navy has "a moral obligation" that outweighs costs or delays.

"I don't believe that in our arrangements with the families and the government of Japan, we should go back on our word," Mink said. "It is a commitment that was made, and I don't think we can renege on it."

Paul Cardus, a spokesman for Sen. Daniel Akaka, (D-Hawai'i), said the senator has not received any "indication from the Navy or anyone else that this is a strain on manpower or operations."

"It hasn't reached a point where the experts have said we can't do this at a reasonable cost and absent that declaration, the senator feels it is important for us to honor the commitment the government of Japan that our nation has made," Cardus said.

Michael Slackman, spokesman for Rep. Neil Abercrombie, (D-Hawai'i), said the congressman believes that raising the Ehime Maru would do much to ensure good U.S.-Japan relations in the new war on terrorism. Being successful would also help Hawai'i's visitor industry, he said.

Rear Adm. William Klemm, the head of the salvage and recovery mission, yesterday reiterated the position held by the Navy since it began the job last earlier this summer.Ê

"The Navy is no less committed to the execution of the recovery of the Ehime Maru since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks," Klemm said. "We have continued our dredging uninterrupted and will continue to move ahead as planned."

Engineers now hope to move the ship by mid-October, about a month later than planned.

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