- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld promised yesterday to "do the right thing" for the families of those aboard a Japanese fishing trawler sunk off the Hawaiian coast after a collision with a U.S. Navy submarine.

The incident comes amid growing tension between Japanese civilians and the U.S. military, a situation made worse by early reports that the U.S. submarine captain may have done nothing initially to help rescue the ship's survivors.

Mr. Rumsfeld said it is too early to say exactly what happened but would not rule out reparations to the families of the 35 aboard the Ehime Maru.

"The United States government has brought the families over and it's been putting people up … and certainly we will do the proper thing when the facts are fully sorted out," Mr. Rumsfeld said yesterday on "Fox News Sunday."

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori yesterday lodged a protest with the United States over the incident, the Associated Press reported.

In a meeting with U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley, Mr. Mori asked that "all available means" be used to reclaim the Ehime Maru from the ocean bottom, said Kazuhiko Koshikawa, Mr. Mori's spokesman.

The USS Greeneville split the Japanese fishing trawler in two while practicing an emergency surfacing maneuver on Friday, causing the Ehime Maru to sink.

The collision occurred at 1:45 p.m., about nine miles south of Diamond Head, on the southern coast of Oahu, according to Navy officials.

The trawler was in the area to train students from the Uwajima Fisheries High School in southwestern Japan. Twenty-six persons survived the accident, but nine, including four students, remain missing.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, who offered condolences Saturday to Japan on behalf of President Bush, added, "We have apologized in every way we know how… . We are doing everything we can to express regret and make sure this doesn't affect the very strong relationship we have with Japan."

There have been several other incidents during the past month that have strained American-Japanese relations: U.S. Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, the top Marine on Okinawa, Japan, reportedly referred to local officials as "nuts and a bunch of wimps" in an e-mail; a U.S. Navy serviceman was arrested Jan. 14 on suspicion of breaking an Okinawa bar owner's finger during a brawl; and a U.S. Marine was arrested Jan. 9 on accusations that he sneaked up on a 16-year-old girl in Okinawa, lifted her skirt, took photos and molested her.

In response to Friday's accident, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Tom Foley has been in touch with Mr. Mori. He also went to Osaka, Japan, to meet with family members of those on the trawler before they departed for the United States, Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Rumsfeld, who called Japanese Defense Agency Director Saito Toshitsugu on Saturday, said an investigation by the admiral of the Pacific fleet has already begun.

"It clearly was a terrible tragedy and most unfortunate," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the investigation will try to determine whether the ship should have used active sonar before surfacing and whether it should have been conducting its exercise farther from the coast of Hawaii.

Mr. Rumsfeld refused to speculate yesterday on what happened, "There's certainly no way to know in real time what took place."

Mr. Powell said on CNN's "Late Edition" that the United States "will do everything we can to find out what happened and present that information to the public."

In the meantime, U.S. forces continued to search for the nine missing persons, including three crewmen, two teachers and four high school students.

"We're doing everything humanly possible to try to find the remaining participants on that ship," Mr. Rumsfeld promised.

Five ships four U.S. and one Japanese were searching yesterday. In addition, two U.S. planes and two helicopters were scouring the area from above.

Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Herman Phillips said despite the passage of time, rescuers remained optimistic.

"As long as the search and rescue are going on, we are hopeful we will find survivors," he said.

But a Japanese official suggested the nine missing might have been trapped in their sunken vessel.

"According to talks between Captain Hisao Onishi and officials in Hawaii, most of the nine were either at the bottom of the vessel or staying somewhere inside the ship," Kazumitsu Jokou, the vice principal of Uwajima Fishery High School told Agence France-Presse.

Mr. Mori told reporters the search for possible survivors was the top priority, but added: "If they cannot be found on the surface of the sea, we would have to address our worries and see inside the ship."

Mr. Mori said it might be necessary to raise the Japanese trawler that sank in 18,000 feet of water.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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