PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) -- The Ehime Maru recovery operation successfully concluded today with the ship settling into its final resting site approximately 12 miles south of Barbers Point in more than 6,000 feet of water.
The Crowley 450-10 barge, which was towed to sea with Ehime Maru suspended off its stern, released the ship at 3:48 p.m.
Representatives of three of the crew members' families witnessed the event from the Japanese submarine rescue ship JDS Chihaya, where a short ceremony was held at the time Ehime Maru was released. USS Salvor (ARS 52), a Pearl Harbor-based rescue and salvage ship that participated in the recovery effort, stood by as a mark of respect.
Before Ehime Maru began the day-long journey from the shallow-water recovery site off Honolulu International Airport's Reef Runway, divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 prepared the ship by ensuring there were no large pockets of diesel fuel aboard and by removing fishing gear, long line and other material on deck. Internal doors, hatches and ports also were secured to prevent material inside the ship from escaping.
The ship was lifted from its 115-foot depth early yesterday and suspended under the Crowley barge for the 21-nautical-mile journey to the final relocation site south of Barbers Point.
Following a request from the Japanese government in mid-February, the operation began in early March with a technical feasibility study. An international team of civilian marine engineers determined that it was possible to lift the 830-ton Ehime Maru from 2,003 feet of seawater and relocate it in 115 feet of seawater where divers could enter the vessel to recover the missing crew members.
Once the crew members were recovered, the technical feasibility study concluded Ehime Maru could be lifted a second time for final release at a deep-water site. Upon completion of the study, an environmental assessment -- prepared in close coordination with federal and State of Hawaii agencies -- concluded the recovery effort would not have a significant impact on the environment.
The results of the technical feasibility study and environmental assessment enabled the U.S. Navy to commence with the recovery operation and fulfill this request.
With the determination that the operation would not harm the environment, the Navy contracted with Smit-Tak, a Dutch recovery company, and Crowley Maritime Corp., headquartered in Washington State, to design, engineer and execute the plan to lift Ehime Maru off the ocean floor, transport it to shallow water, and relocate it to deep water upon completion of the recovery effort.
While the Navy was confident it would be able to successfully conduct the operation, the recovery was not without risks, and there were no guarantees of success. The Navy had recovered aircraft and other items from depths far deeper than 2,000 feet, but this was the first time an object with the mass of Ehime Maru was recovered intact from that depth.
Smit-Tak, the prime contractor for the deep-water rigging and lift to shallow water, had subcontracted with Halliburton Co., a Texas-based engineering and construction company, for the lease of Rockwater 2, a construction support vessel. It was Rockwater 2 that lifted Ehime Maru from 2,000 feet on Oct. 12, then gently set it down at the shallow-water recovery site about 1 mile south of the Reef Runway the afternoon of Oct. 14.
At the shallow-water site, U.S. Navy and U.S Navy-trained Japanese divers thoroughly searched the ship and recovered eight of the nine missing crew members. They also recovered personal effects and items unique to the ship, such as its nameplate, bell and helm, that Japanese government officials had requested for a possible memorial. From Oct. 15-Nov. 6, the divers completed 425 dives, for a total of more than 333 hours of time on the bottom.
Two of Ehime Maru's anchors also were recovered at the deep-water site for the Japanese government.
While those divers were searching the ship, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force divers from the submarine rescue ship JDS Chihaya were aboard the Crowley barge, observing the operation on monitors fed from cameras mounted on the U.S. Navy divers' helmets. The JMSDF divers also spent a week searching Ehime Maru after the U.S. divers were done to verify the thoroughness of the search. They completed 101 dives Nov. 15 for a total of nearly 70 hours of bottom time.
At a Nov. 15 press conference, Rear Adm. William Klemm, the director of the Ehime Maru Recovery Effort, called Chihaya's commanding officer "a true professional."
"His crew has given it their all, 100 percent," Klemm said. "We have had representatives with their crew, and we have seen their helmet camera films (just) as they observed our own people. We know they did a thorough search. I'm very confident that his word is good, and that we have searched 100 percent of the ship...."
In summing up the operation, Klemm said those involved in the operation "have overcome significant technical difficulties in order to provide closure to the families of the missing crew members. The gratitude they showed us justified the operation. We are pleased that we were able to recover the remains of eight crew members, but our prayers continue to be with the Mizuguchis (the family of the ninth missing crew member) in their loss."
For related news, visit the Pacific Fleet Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cpf.