Hopes Fade for Finding Sub Victims

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

HONOLULU (AP) — With hopes for finding survivors fading, officials investigating the sinking of a Japanese fishing boat by a U.S. submarine said nine missing people may have been trapped as the boat plunged to the ocean bottom. The Japanese asked U.S. officials to raise the ship.

``There is a possibility that the bodies are still in the vessel,'' Coast Guard Capt. Steven A. Newell said Sunday, more than 48 hours after the collision that has strained U.S.-Japanese relations.

Newell said weather was good and the search would continue through at least Monday afternoon.

In a closed, two-hour briefing, relatives and friends of the missing urged officials to raise the Ehime Maru. The 34 loved ones, who had arrived from Japan on Sunday, emerged from the briefing looking stoic and drained, and quietly filed onto a bus to return to their hotel.

Japan's prime minister lodged a protest with the United States, also demanding that the ship be raised. Yoshiro Mori met Sunday with U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley and asked the United States to ``use all available means'' to reclaim the ship, said Kazuhiko Koshikawa, Mori's spokesman.

Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, said Monday that ``we'll certainly want to talk to the Japanese about what they have in mind.''

``There will be a complete and transparent investigation so we will know what happened,'' she said on CBS' ``Early Show.'' ``There is no evidence yet that proper procedures were not followed.''

Twenty-six people were rescued after the 180-foot fishing vessel sank, 10 minutes after it was struck by the USS Greeneville on Friday. Still missing were three crew members, two teachers and four students — teen-age boys on a field trip learning to fish.

Aircraft and ships scouring a 5,000-square-mile area day and night have found only life rafts and debris from the fishing vessel, which sank in 1,800 feet of water about nine miles from Diamond Head and 20 miles southeast of Pearl Harbor.

``The longer we go without signs there are people in the water, the more difficult it becomes for us to continue,'' Newell said. ``But we will continue to search for any objects ... the possibility that they are in a life raft, in a life jacket or perhaps even treading water.''

The Navy has the ability to raise a ship from such depths, but the equipment was not yet in place, said Cmdr. Bruce Cole, Pacific Fleet spokesman.

The submarine's commander, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, was reassigned pending the outcome of the investigations.

The nuclear-powered attack submarine did not use active sonar to check for surface craft before conducting an emergency surfacing drill from a depth of 400 feet, the National Transportation Safety Board said in a news conference Sunday.

Navy officials said the Greeneville conducted two periscope sweeps and used ``passive sonar'' before blowing its main ballast tanks and coming up under the Ehime Maru, NTSB member John Hammerschmidt said.

Passive sonar can detect the sound of other ships' propellers. Active sonar emits a sound wave and detects echoes from the hulls of other vessels.

Following an investigation of the submarine USS Houston's 1989 sinking of a tugboat 10 miles off California, the NTSB recommended that the Navy direct submarines to use active sonar before surfacing in areas with high surface traffic, Hammerschmidt said.

The Navy rejected that recommendation, he said. He cautioned, however, it would be premature to draw any conclusions about the Greeneville accident from the 1989 recommendation.

The NTSB was interviewing the students who survived the sinking, and planned to inspect the submarine and interview crew members.

Members of the submarine's navigation crew were given routine drug tests and will be asked about their activities in the three days before the crash, including how much sleep they had, Hammerschmidt said.

Hammerschmidt said the investigators also hope to learn if the emergency surfacing maneuver was done to impress 15 civilians who were on the submarine as part of the Navy's community relations program.


On the Net:

NTSB: http://www.ntsb.gov

Pacific Fleet: http://www.csp.navy.mil