Environmental Assessment update U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs
PEARL HARBOR (May 4, 2001) -- The Navy continues its preparation of an environmental assessment to determine whether moving Ehime Maru from its current location, about nine miles south of Diamond Head, will have an impact on the environment.
Today, the Navy provided the federal and state agencies portions of the draft assessment for review. Additional portions will be provided later this month as they are completed.
Since mid-March, the Navy has been working with several state of Hawaii and federal agencies on the environmental assessment, which is examining potential impacts moving the vessel may have on water quality, fish, coral, turtles and marine mammals.
The state agencies include the Governor's office, State Department of Land and Natural Resources, State Department of Health, Attorney General's office, State Department of Transportation and State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
The federal agencies include the National Marine Fisheries Services or "NOAA Fisheries" -- part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (part of the U.S. Department of Interior), Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Coast Guard.
The assessment includes examining potential sites to which the ship can be moved, a requirement set by the National Environmental Policy Act. The best site would have a flat, sandy bottom, be about 100-feet deep and have minimal tidal flow. Due to the complexity of the proposed plan, the Navy also wants to minimize the distance to the recovery site.
The Navy hopes to complete the assessment by mid-June in order to conduct the recovery operation in late summer. This period will take advantage of the best sea state and wind conditions to maximize environmental protection. While the Navy wants to move expeditiously, it also wants to ensure the assessment is done comprehensively and correctly.
A company contracted by the Navy recommended lifting the 750-metric ton ship from where it lies at 2,000 feet and moving it while still submerged to a depth at which divers can reach it. The divers would then search the ship to recover the missing crewmembers and personal effects -- a task that cannot now be accomplished due to the greater depth.
Even if environmentally feasible, the operation will be highly complex and pose a number of challenges. An object the size of Ehime Maru has never been raised from 2,000 feet. It is possible the vessel could suffer additional structural failure during the movement due to the existing damage to its hull and the stresses imposed by lifting and transport. Depending on the extent of any additional structural failure, the operation may be halted.
Once in place at the shallower site, divers will have to navigate tight and damaged compartments. Not every space may be physically accessible and some spaces may not be safe for divers to enter. Safety will be paramount throughout the recovery operation.