Navy Resumes Sunken Vessel Search

Monday, February 19th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

HONOLULU (AP) — The Navy resumed inspection of a sunken Japanese ship after sidestepping earlier technical problems with a deep-sea robot.

Crew members aboard the USS Salvor lowered a second robot into the ocean nine miles south of Diamond Head on Sunday night, after the first robot was removed for repairs.

The Navy is using the unmanned submersibles to evaluate the feasibility of raising the 190-foot Ehime Maru, which sank minutes after the USS Greeneville submarine surfaced underneath it Feb. 9.

Families of the nine men and teen-agers missing since the collision are pressing the United States to salvage the ship if that is the only way to recover bodies that may be entombed in its hull.

``The U.S. Navy has never raised a vessel of this size from this depth, so it is an immense task if that were to be the directive,'' Lt. Cmdr. Jane Campbell said.

Videotape taken by the first robot showed the ship in good condition, sitting upright on the ocean floor, but the Coast Guard said the full extent of damage had not been determined.

The Navy said the deep-sea robots may be too big to enter the wreckage to retrieve any bodies that may be inside, especially if the vessel has not broken apart.

The Ehime Maru, a commercial fishing training vessel, was headed toward fishing grounds 300 miles southeast of Oahu when the Greeneville collided with it during an emergency rapid-ascent drill. Twenty-six people were rescued, but there have been no signs of the nine missing.

The Navy announced Saturday it would conduct a court of inquiry — its highest-level administrative investigation — to focus on the actions of the Greeneville's three top officers: the submarine's captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle; its executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald K. Pfeifer, and the officer of the deck, Lt. j.g. Michael J. Coen.

Three admirals will oversee the hearing, which could lead to courts-martial, said Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet. The board is scheduled to convene Thursday.

The hearing is expected to touch on the presence of 16 civilian guests on board. Two civilians, supervised by crew members, were at key controls when the Greeneville made its rapid ascent. One pulled the levers that initiated the drill.

Jack Clary, 68, a free-lance sports writer from Stow, Mass., was at the helm of the submarine during the rapid ascent but said he was not controlling the equipment. Clary said the civilians were all supervised by crew members, and that their hands were intertwined as they touched the controls.

The inquiry is also expected to address why periscope and sonar sweeps failed to detect the fishing vessel. The National Transportation Safety Board reported the Greeneville crew had tracked several ships in the area, but investigators have not said when the ships were tracked and where they were located.


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