Monday, November 30, 2015         

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Japanese students honor 9 killed aboard Ehime Maru

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Seventeen students and three teachers from Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime prefecture in Japan paid their respects yesterday to the victims of a tragedy nearly a decade ago when a Pearl Harbor-based nuclear submarine surfaced into the hull of a small Japanese fishing trawler, killing nine people.

The unpublicized visit by the Japanese students to the black granite memorial in Kakaako Waterfront Park occurred as Japanese, Navy and other organizations plan a service to mark the 10th anniversary of the tragedy in February.

The accident, which caused a major controversy in Japan over the lack of a swift apology, happened on Feb. 9, 2001, when the 360-foot, 6,900-ton USS Greeneville collided with the 191-foot Ehime Maru, nine miles south of Diamond Head.

The Ehime Maru, which had been carrying 35 people, sank within minutes. Four 17-year-old Japanese students and two teachers from Uwajima Fisheries High School and three Ehime Maru crew members were killed. The USS Greeneville was demonstrating its emergency surfacing capability to a group of 16 civilians when it surfaced beneath the Japanese vessel, slicing its hull.

A monument to the ship was completed and dedicated a year after the accident.

In June 2003, 12 surviving members returned to Oahu on another fishing vessel -- named the Ehime Maru and paid for by the Navy.

Since then the new 499-ton Ehime Maru, which is a replica of the original, has returned annually as part of its at-sea instructional programs with its crew and students making pilgrimages to Kakaako Park.

However, the new Ehime Maru did not make the voyage last year, which has served as a ocean classroom for a select group of Uwajima students, according to local organizers. The school is located in Uwajima City, a port 420 miles southwest of Tokyo.

Yesterday the ship tied up at Aloha Tower, and the high-schoolers walked to Kakaako Park, where they left floral tributes, said Ken Saiki, who has maintained the oceanfront memorial.

Saiki, a member of the Japan-America Society of Hawaii who has coordinated the maintenance effort, said a group of two dozen volunteers, including members of Saint Louis School's Japanese club and several organizations representing various Japanese prefectures, send volunteers every week to clean and maintain the Ehime Maru memorial.

After the mishap, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the accident was probably caused by "inadequate interaction and communication" among senior naval officers. "The failure of the crew, in particular the commanding officer (Cmdr. Scott Waddle) to adequately manage the civilian visitors so that they did not impede operations" probably contributed to the calamity.

Although Waddle later apologized to the victims' families, in an autobiography -- "The Right Thing" -- he wrote, "Somebody had to take a fall for it, and, as the court of inquiry progressed, it became more and more obvious that the court had already decided that the sacrificial lamb would be me."

He received a career-ending reprimand but was allowed to retire with his Navy pension intact and now makes a living as an inspirational speaker.

Following the 2001 accident, the Navy lifted the Ehime Maru from 2,000 feet and moved it to a shallower location one mile south of Honolulu Airport's reef runway to begin the search for the victims. After 425 dives, only eight bodies of the nine Japanese crewmen, teachers and students were recovered and returned to their families. The body of 17-year-old Takeshi Mizuguchi was never found.

The recovery operation cost $60 million.

The Navy paid $11.47 million in compensation with $8.87 million used to replace the ship, and the remainder was to pay for counseling and financial aid for the survivors. In addition, the Navy paid $13.9 million to 33 of the 35 families of victims or injured survivors. The remaining two family members accepted a $2.6 million settlement.

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