HONOLULU -- As tearful relatives of the people missing at sea following the collision between a U.S. submarine and a Japanese trawler visited the crash site Monday, the Navy dispatched a high-tech undersea vehicle to scour the ocean floor for wreckage -- and possibly to recover bodies.
Nine crew members, students and teachers who were aboard the trawler when it sank nine to 12 miles off the coast of Honolulu Friday still are unaccounted for. The accident occurred when the sub Greeneville struck the Ehime Maru when it surfaced during a planned emergency drill. Twenty-six other people aboard the trawler were rescued.
Searchers picked up the last of the Ehime Maru's 10 life rafts Monday, dimming hopes that anyone will be found alive. Still, the Coast Guard planned to continue searching a 6,500-square-mile area. .
"We're still looking for people hanging onto debris, and we're looking for people in life jackets," said Lt. Greg Fondran, a spokesman for the 14th Coast Guard District. "Obviously, the longer we look without finding anyone, the closer we come to suspension of the search. But we're not at that point yet."
Meanwhile, the Navy and the National Transportation Safety Board continued to investigate why the nuclear-powered attack submarine -- outfitted with sophisticated sonar detection gear and a high-powered periscope -- was unaware that the trawler was in the area.
Of concern to the NTSB was whether the submarine had used both its passive and active sonar systems before attempting the drill, in which the submarine pops rapidly to the surface.
After a 1989 incident off Long Beach, Calif. -- in which the submarine Houston snagged the towline of a tugboat and dragged it beneath the water, killing a crewman -- the NTSB recommended that submarines use both active and passive sonar when surfacing in U.S. waters.
Passive sonar listens for sound; active sonar emits a pinging sound and awaits for a rebounding noise.
The Navy rejected the NTSB recommendation, leaving the decision to use active sonar to the discretion of individual submarine commanders.
Many submariners -- including those at the top of the U.S. Navy -- believe the use of passive sonar and a periscope inspection is the safest method to reduce the risks inherent in surfacing. Active sonar, many say, is even more vulnerable to underwater distortion than passive sonar.
Late Monday, the Navy loaded the Scorpio II deep-submergence vehicle onto a transport plane at North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego and shipped it to Hawaii to aid in the search -- along with Deep Drone, another remote-control vehicle from the East Coast.
President Bush on Monday offered a silent prayer "for those missing, their families and our friends, the people of Japan" before delivering a speech to military personnel outside Savannah, Ga.
The spot off Diamond Head where the ship went down is within a submarine operating zone marked on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maps, but is not off-limits to other ships. It is crossed regularly by vessels heading to neighboring islands south of Oahu, such as Maui and the Big Island.
The submarine's crew and passengers are scheduled to be interviewed Tuesday. The Navy has declined to identify the 15 civilians who were aboard the submarine at the time of the accident, but said they were mostly business people.
Cmdr. Scott Waddle, the Greeneville's captain, will be interviewed later in the week. The Naval Academy graduate, 41, who has spent his entire career in submarines, has been relieved of his command pending completion of the investigation.
Despite reports in Japan that the accident has strained diplomatic relations, the State Department said Monday that ties between the two nations are based on strong mutual interests and will not be affected over the long term by the tragedy.
On Monday, Adm.iral Dennis Blair -- commander of the U.S. Pacific Command -- met at Pearl Harbor with Yoshitaka Sakurada, Japan's parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs.
Sakurada reiterated Japan's desire that the trawler be brought to the surface. But Blair said that the Scorpio's recovery capacity is "very limited."
The Navy, he said, will weigh technical difficulties and the risk to those involved before undertaking a salvage operation.
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