New Ehime Maru greeted in harbor
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By Mike Gordon and Kawehi Haug
Advertiser Staff Writers
But this was no ghost ship and its crew of students and staff from Uwajima Fisheries High School was all smiles.
The Royal Hawaiian Band played the Hilo March and the crowd of 200 people waved enthusiastically as the ship did a tight circle in the harbor before smoothly pulling up to Pier 9.
Its predecessor left the same port on a gray Friday afternoon Feb. 9, 2001 and was rammed by a surfacing nuclear submarine, the USS Greeneville. The collision, which killed nine people, including four 17-year-old students, created an international incident.
Ever since, Hawai'i residents have tried to ease the pain suffered by the ship's survivors and their families.
That was the inspiration for today's welcome ceremony organized by the Japan-America Society of Hawai'i.
Clifford Chillingworth, coach of the Hawaii Junior Baseball Team that visited Japan last year, brought some of his players to the ceremony. They had travelled to Uwajima and forged a bond with the community.
"This completes the circle," he said. "This event brings everything to a close. After a tragedy you just have to move on, and sometimes the best way is through the kids."
After clearing customs the crew of 36 filed down the gangplank for the reception. Each was given an orchid lei before taking a seat where they sat nearly expressionless for the ceremony.
If this visit was difficult, it didn't show.
Masatoshi Muto, consul general of Japan, told the crowd and crew that neither the tragedy nor the warm support from Hawai'i will be forgotten.
"The Ehime Maru is making its maiden voyage to Honolulu, bringing gratitude and healing to the people of Hawai'i," he said. "The Ehime Maru is a carrier of the aloha spirit and a vessel of human kindness."
Eight members of the Saint Louis Japanese Club brought a kukui nut lei to hang on the new ship when it arrived. A harbor pilot carried them to just outside the harbor and they gave their Japanese counterparts the lei.
The Saint Louis students have forged ties with the Uwajima students and have met them before. Their club has volunteered to clean the Ehime Maru Memorial in Kaka'ako Waterfront Park ever since it was unveiled on the first anniversary of the tragedy.
Ahren Miura, 16, president of the club, wasn't sure how the students felt.
"I guess it's hard for them," he said, "I think there are still some unfriendly feelings towards the United States and not trusting us."
But meetings like the one at today's ceremony will change that, said club member Thomas Woo.
"This is kind of emotional," Woo said. "We can relate to them, we're high school students too. But we're pretty fortunate for our lives and we will try to comfort them."