Ship wreckage found, Navy says

Saturday, February 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HONOLULU (AP) _ A deep-sea robot has found the wreckage of a Japanese fishing vessel that sank when a Navy attack submarine tore through it while surfacing, Navy officials said Saturday.

``All we can do is confirm that a remote-operated vehicle has located the Ehime Maru,'' said Jon Yoshishige, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

Yoshishige said the fishing boat was spotted at 11:25 p.m. Friday sitting nearly upright in 2,033 feet of water, approximately 1,000 yards from the collision site.

A Navy support ship had lowered the remotely operated deep-diving vehicle, the Super Scorpio II, into the ocean nine miles south of Diamond Head _ where the crash took place _ to begin the search on Friday.

The unmanned submersible is equipped with sonar and two video cameras, and has a limited recovery capability.

The Scorpio on Saturday was continuing a scan on the vessel and the area around it, Yoshishige said. There was no word whether any bodies had been detected in the 500-ton Ehime Maru.

Still missing are four high school students, two teachers and three crewmen from the commercial fishing training vessel, operated by Uwajima Fisheries High School in southwestern Japan. Twenty-six people were rescued after the Feb. 9 collision.

Japanese family members meanwhile made an anguished and angry plea for answers about why the USS Greeneville crashed into the 190-foot Ehime Maru.

At times sobbing and shouting, 16 relatives spoke publicly about the tragedy for the first time Friday at a news conference on the University of Hawaii campus. They urged officials to continue with the search until all missing bodies were found.

``It's your responsibility as human beings,'' said Masumi Terata, mother of 17-year-old Yusuke Terata. ``If your blood is red, you'll understand our pain and sorrow.''

The fishing vessel sank minutes after the Greeneville surfaced underneath it during an emergency rapid-ascent drill. Two civilian guests were at control stations of the submarine during the maneuver.

The Navy said Friday it is barring civilians from submarines during emergency surfacing drills while investigators try to determine how the submarine slammed into the vessel.

A preliminary report on the incident was expected in the next few days, according to Pentagon officials.

The relatives, speaking Japanese, released a list of 31 questions they want the United States to answer. Included are questions about who was steering the submarine at the time of the collision and why the Greeneville crew did not ``do their best'' to assist survivors immediately after the sinking.

Navy officials have said rough seas prevented the submarine crew from bringing survivors onboard.

``Do you let the civilians experience the emergency blow to let them enjoy the thrill of a roller coaster ride?'' one question said. ``Will you continue such a foolish `leisure land tour' in such areas with many yachts and boats?''

Reversing its earlier decision, the Coast Guard said it has extended its search for bodies at least through the holiday weekend. On Friday it added two cutters, a helicopter and a Navy plane to the sole Navy cruiser that had been searching the day before.

Relatives said it's not enough.

``A week has passed, but we know so very little,'' said Shoko Takagi, sister-in-law of Jun Nakata, one of the missing crew members.

Shizuko Kimura, younger sister of crew member Toshimichi Furuya, cried loudly.

``My brother is at the bottom with the Ehime Maru,'' she said. ``I'm not asking you to bring him back alive. So please bring back my brother's body to us.''