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Fuel Leaking From Sunken Japanese Boat - 2001-07-31

The U.S. Navy has run into more trouble with that ill-fated Japanese fishing trawler sunk earlier this year in the Pacific after a fatal collision with an American nuclear submarine.

Navy sources report there has been a diesel fuel leak from the sunken Japanese vessel Ehime Maru that created a narrow oil slick nearly two kilometers long off the coast of Hawaii.

The sources tell VOA the release occurred in recent days as salvage crews using remotely-operated vehicles were preparing to move the sunken trawler underwater from its present depth of some 600 meters to a much shallower location close to shore.

If the complex, multi-million dollar maneuver is successful, that is where divers later this year will attempt to recover the bodies of nine missing Japanese believed trapped in the wreckage since the Ehime Maru was struck by the nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville.

Navy confirmation of the spill comes just days after officials in Hawaii acknowledged the use of explosive charges in the salvage operation could lead to the release of some fuel still contained on the Ehime Maru.

The Navy at the time downplayed the risk of an accidental release. But it said that as a precaution a skimmer with containment booms and other equipment would be on standby.

The sources at the Pentagon who told VOA of the spill say the slick moved away from the shore following the fuel release and posed no threat to Hawaii's famous beaches.

The Ehime Maru was struck by the USS Greeneville in February this year about 14 kilometers south of Honolulu. The collision occurred as the submarine practiced an emergency rapid-surfacing maneuver. The accident stirred widespread resentment in Japan - especially after it was disclosed that a group of civilian visitors was on board the U.S. submarine at the time of the collision.

In response to demands by the families of the nine Japanese killed in the incident, the Navy agreed to undertake a salvage mission in order to retrieve the bodies of the dead.