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Damage Claims Pursued in Ehime Maru Tragedy

October 28, 2001|SUSAN ESSOYAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HONOLULU — As the Navy's $60-million effort to retrieve bodies from the sunken Ehime Maru nears completion with eight out of nine recovered, the victims' families are pursuing claims against the U.S. government for the accident, a Navy spokeswoman confirmed Saturday.

Claims for damages have been filed on behalf of family members and survivors of the Feb. 9 collision between the Japanese vessel and the U.S. submarine Greeneville, according to Lt. Pauline Storum of the Navy's Office of Information. Ehime prefecture is also seeking compensation for the loss of the Ehime Maru itself.

The Navy will not disclose how many claims were received or the dollar amounts out of respect for the families' privacy, Storum said. The claims were given to U.S. military representatives in Japan. Families have the option to file suit if the claims are not settled.

In Hawaii, the unexpected recovery of an eighth body from the Ehime Maru this week has given divers hope that they will also find the last missing student who perished when the Greeneville suddenly surfaced under the fisheries training ship. Based on last sightings before the ship went down, the Navy had expected to find up to seven victims.

"The divers are very motivated to getting 100%" of the crew, said Capt. Christopher Murray, the Navy's supervisor of diving. "They want to finish this for the families. We know there's one more."

The most recent body recovered was identified Saturday by the medical examiner's office as that of 17-year-old Yusuke Terata, a student at Uwajima Fisheries High School.

The 66 divers who have been probing the murky compartments of the ship were given their first day off today since dives began Oct. 15. Working from a barge that serves as a dive platform, the divers have searched two-thirds of the 190-foot vessel. They will resume their work at daylight Monday, hoping to complete the job by the end of the week.

Five of the victims' families left Honolulu on Friday to return home, carrying the cremated remains of their loved ones.

Along with Terata's remains, divers have recovered the bodies of 17-year-old students Toshiya Sakashima and Katsuya Nomoto, teachers Jun Nakata and Hiroshi Makizawa, chief engineer Toshimichi Furuya, chief radio officer Hirotaka Segawa and crewman Hiroshi Nishida.

Student Takeshi Mizuguchi is still missing.

In its effort to make amends for the accident, the Navy has spent $60 million on the recovery effort, $20 million more than expected. The Navy accepted complete responsibility for the collision.

Investigators found that the submarine's captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, rushed his crew and failed to perform an adequate periscope search before the nuclear submarine surfaced under the trawler.

The surfacing maneuver was performed for the benefit of civilian guests, some of whom were allowed to sit at the controls, a practice that was banned after the accident.

The horror of the accident was compounded by what the Japanese considered significant lapses in protocol afterward. The victims' families expected a prompt, personal apology from Waddle, something the skipper avoided on the advice of his lawyers. He also offended many Japanese when he strode into the formal Navy Court of Inquiry holding hands with his wife.

"If any private sentiment was to be expressed, it should have been his remorse," said George Tanabe Jr., professor of religion at the University of Hawaii. "These protocol issues had huge consequences in how the Japanese viewed the whole incident."

The Ehime Maru sank in 2,000 feet of water, well beyond the reach of divers, and had to be moved to a shallow site for recovery operations.

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