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Envoy Delivers U.S. Apology to Japan on Sinking

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A special envoy from Washington delivered a personal apology Tuesday from President Bush to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori for a U.S. submarine’s collision with a Japanese trawler that left nine people missing and presumed dead.

The envoy, Navy Adm. William Fallon, also met today with Cabinet ministers and the fathers of two of the students who apparently died in the crash to apologize for the Feb. 9 tragedy.

It wasn’t clear how much Washington’s apologies would do for damage control in the U.S.-Japan strategic relationship. The Japanese have been growing increasingly angry over revelations of alleged negligence at the hands of the officers of the Greeneville, which collided with the Ehime Maru fishing training vessel near Honolulu.

The sub’s officers were allegedly distracted by civilian visitors and had detected the presence of the vessel by sonar but nevertheless hit and instantly sank the trawler.

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Today’s meeting between Fallon and the victims’ parents appeared to have offered some solace for the families.

“The apology from the U.S. side has been conveyed to the family members fully, and we are glad that you met us today,” Ryusuke Terata, father of the missing Yusuke Terata, 17, told reporters upon meeting with Fallon at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

Tensions in the two countries’ relationship have also been heightened by recent crimes by U.S. troops on the southern island of Okinawa, which is home to about half of America’s 47,000 troops in Japan. Relations have also been damaged by a leaked e-mail in which the top Marine on the island reportedly referred to the island’s officials as “nuts” and “a bunch of wimps.”

In the 30-minute meeting with Mori, Fallon is said to have stressed that a full naval investigation into the sinking will be carried out and that the U.S. is studying the feasibility of raising the vessel and the possibility of compensation.

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According to the government, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono is said to have asked that Fallon “ensure the safety of the U.S. ships, including the nuclear submarines which make calls at Japanese ports.”

The victims’ families have also demanded an apology from the ship’s captain, who has expressed regret about the incident but not formally apologized.

The government and the victims’ families have demanded compensation and insisted that the trawler be raised. After the meeting with the admiral, Mori said the government is prepared to undertake the salvage effort itself if the U.S. fails to do so.

Despite the Japanese anger, Mori reportedly asked Fallon to convey to Bush that the two countries should continue efforts to strengthen their security relationship.

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The Japanese government has been upset that the U.S. apologies didn’t come quickly enough or follow proper Japanese protocol. Bush offered a silent prayer to those missing and their families at a speech Feb. 12, three days after the tragedy, and called Mori the next day.

A Japanese official, who asked not to be named, said today that he was concerned that the Japanese government not “give the impression that it enjoys being apologized to.”

“This shouldn’t be about whether there have been enough apologies--how deeply they have bowed and how many times,” the official said. “We’re not asking for that. We want to know whether the U.S. has been forthcoming on salvage efforts and how seriously the investigation will be conducted and the compensation matter. These things will be the yardstick with which we can judge the U.S.’ dispatch.”


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