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Hawaii, Japanese State Build Ties

February 9, 2006

HONOLULU (AP) _ Five years ago, a Navy nuclear submarine rammed into a Japanese fishing boat off Oahu, sinking the ship and killing nine people.

Today, Hawaii and Ehime _ the home states of the USS Greeneville and the Ehime Maru fishing vessel _ are working to build ties, while the Navy is teaching submariners lessons learned from the collision in hopes of preventing similar accidents in the future.

``I know the parents still suffer, the families still suffer, but I think the best thing we can do in trying to help the families is to ... make good things happen. And hopefully we’re doing that,″ said Earl Okawa, president of the Japan-America Society of Hawaii.

Families of three of the victims and the mayor of Uwajima are scheduled to gather at the Ehime Maru Memorial at Honolulu’s Kakaako Waterfront Park this week for a wreath-laying ceremony to remember those killed in the Feb. 9, 2001, collision.

Okawa said the informal observance would be primarily for the families.

Organizers plan to hold a formal ceremony next year, which, according to the traditional Japanese method of counting years, will mark the seventh year since the accident. Under the method, the first time a person is mourned is considered the first year after death, and a year later is considered the second. In Japan, the seventh year is important for observing Buddhist rituals for the dead.

On Tuesday, a single purple orchid lei rested on a steel post in front of the black granite memorial overlooking the Pacific. A marker pointed toward the spot where the Greeneville surfaced beneath the Ehime Maru, a vessel used to train teenagers to fish commercially.

In the five years since the collision, the two states have drawn closer. Hawaii and Ehime became sister states in 2003, while Honolulu and Uwajima signed a sister-city agreement a year later.

In March, 20 students from Honolulu’s Kawananakoa Middle School plan to visit Uwajima Minami Junior High School in Ehime. Twenty students from Uwajima Minami will return the visit in June.

Uwajima Fisheries High School has built a new Ehime Maru ship to train its students to be fisherman. Currently en route to Hawaii on a training mission, the ship’s 19 students, two teachers and 20 crew members will mourn the victims on Thursday while at sea.

The Navy and the submarine’s captain apologized for the accident, although not as quickly as the victims’ families wished. The Navy’s court of inquiry let Cmdr. Scott Waddle retire at full rank and pension.

The court concluded that Waddle rushed through mandatory safety procedures while demonstrating an emergency surfacing drill for the benefit of civilians touring the submarine. The sub’s rudder sliced into the hull of the Ehime Maru.

The investigation found that Waddle was in a hurry because he didn’t want the submarine to be late returning to Pearl Harbor with the guests. As a result, he failed to properly check for nearby ships before ordering the Greeneville to surface.

But the Navy has learned from the accident, officials say.

``It’s affected really everything that we do,″ said Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a spokesman for the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force. ``It’s something that everyone knows about, everyone’s studied and every single person who is teaching and assessing will refer to and use as an example.″


Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this story.

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