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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Discovery Channel to film sunken sub

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

Two University of Hawai'i deep diving submersibles will return Dec. 17 to the site of the Japanese midget submarine that became the first casualty of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.

The 78-foot submarine lay upright in 1,200 feet of water, camouflaged in what has been called a "military junkyard," until the Hawai'i Undersea Research Laboratory submersibles Pisces IV and Pisces V discovered it during a training dive on Aug. 28.

This time, the trip is being paid for by the Discovery Channel, which wants to film the historic find five miles off the mouth of Pearl Harbor for an hour-long documentary that could be shown in the spring.

"We won't touch the sub. We'll just sail by and shoot some footage of it," said John Wiltshire, acting director of the undersea lab, part of the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology.

It could be some time before further research is conducted or the decision is made whether to raise the submarine, which likely contains the remains of its two crew members.

Discussions are ongoing between the U.S. State Department and Japan over the sub, which lies in U.S. territorial waters.

"We have asked a number of agencies if they would be interested in supporting additional work," Wiltshire said, adding the undersea research lab doesn't have the money on its own to mount such an investigation.

However, Wiltshire said, "I don't think the U.S. government would commit to major work on that thing without some (decision by) the Japanese."

For the past several months, the undersea research lab's dive season has been focused on fisheries enhancement, coral reef habitats, undersea volcanos, landslide monitoring, and other oceanographic studies. The last scientific dive of the season will be Dec. 13. Wiltshire said the next regular opportunity to examine the submarine may be during the next season of test and training dives in August.

UH's discovery of the sub confirmed that the destroyer USS Ward struck the first blow on Dec. 7, 1941, and raised anew the debate over the United States' preparedness for Japan's surprise attack.

Daniel Martinez, historian for the National Park Service's USS Arizona Memorial, previously said the Ward opened fire at 6:45 a.m. — one hour and 10 minutes before the aerial attack — when the submarine was spotted in the "defensive sea area."

But it took 61 years — and UH's underwater video — to confirm that a 4-inch shell fired by the Ward punched a hole through both sides of the sub's conning tower.

Wiltshire said federal officials want to make the site a Marine Protected Area.

Long before any plan is formulated to raise the submarine, which is intact down to the two-propeller system and protective guard over two 18-foot torpedoes, the sub will have to be surveyed, the lab said.

Initial speculation on a salvage plan has focused on pumping compressed air or foam into the hull to make the sub buoyant so it could be secured to a 90-foot pallet.