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Search Continues for Survivors of Fishing Vessel That Sank After Colliding With Sub

Aired February 12, 2001 - 4:10 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Navy is coming under fire for the way it handled the sinking of a Japanese fishing boat by a U.S. submarine. Major Japanese newspapers today criticized the crew of the USS Greeneville for not moving faster to rescue survivors.

The Japanese boat sank quickly after it was hit Friday by the nuclear-powered sub as it conducted an emergency surfacing drill. The accident happened in clear weather, about 9 miles off the coast of Hawaii: 26 people were rescued. The search, though, continues for nine more who are still missing.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is onboard the Coast Guard search ship, the USS Kitty Hawk.

Gary, tell us what's the latest out there.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, it's now been nearly three full days since this tragic accident, and there's still no good news to report about the nine people who are missing.

The search is continuing in an area centered 10 miles south of Diamond Head (ph) off the coast of Oahu, and it's a huge area, though, bigger than the state of Rhode Island. Right now, we come to you from a Coast Guard station on the Honolulu Bay right near downtown Honolulu. This is where Coast Guard cutters come to refuel and then go back out to participate in the search for the nine missing people. And with us right now is the commander of the cutter, Kitty Wake. That's where we're standing right now.

This is Jennifer Cook. Commander, thanks for joining us.

First, let me ask you, the mission that you have -- you've been out there five or six times searching. How difficult is it?

LT. JENNIFER COOK, U.S. COAST GUARD: This is our job and this is what we're trained for. Search and rescue is one of the primary missions of the Coast Guard. So when we get calls like this, it's a tragic accident, but this is what we're here for.

TUCHMAN: This is so tragic and so high-profile, though. How hard is it for you and your people to be out there looking for these nine people who are missing? COOK: It's hard to on the crew, you know. Right now, we don't know exactly what we're looking for. Obviously, survivors. But as it gets longer...

TUCHMAN: There's a chance you'll find some bodies, too.

COOK: Yes, we're still searching for survivors and will continue. Obviously, those decisions are made higher up. But we'll continue until we're told to stop.

TUCHMAN: I know that you have found some item on the sea. Tell me what you have found in this cutter.

COOK: We've found some life rings, and there's quite a bit of wood debris out there. When we first showed up Friday afternoon, there was still fuel sheen on the water, some things like that. But the biggest thing we're looking for, obviously, is survivors. But the one thing we've pulled out of the water has been life rings.

TUCHMAN: But are very specifically being told that the search is still on?

COOK: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Show me up there. Is that where all your people are when you're searching? How does that work?

COOK: Right. It's too rough for them to be on deck. So most of them are up in the pilothouse up there looking out the windows. They have binoculars, and just go at a nice slow -- slow speed to do a search pattern.

TUCHMAN: Lieutenant Cook, thank you for talking with us.

COOK: Thank you.

TUCHMAN: And you'll be going out later this afternoon.

COOK: Yes.

TUCHMAN: Lieutenant, we appreciate it.

As we said, 26 people survived this accident. They are all in good condition, no life-threatening injuries.

This past weekend, relatives of the missing came to the United States. The U.S. government paid to have them flown from Japan here. They are all with each other right now waiting for any kind of news at all, hoping for good news.

Among the nine people missing, three 17-year-old students from a fishery school in southwestern Japan. This was a field trip they had been looking forward to, going to Hawaii to continue their fishing education. Also missing, two of their instructors and four crew members. Let me make sure we have that straight now. That's four students, three crew members and two teachers. We want to make sure that that's very accurate. A total of nine people still missing, and the search does continue.

We must say and it's very important to stress that these searchers are not very hopeful they will find anyone alive. But because the water temperature is 77 degrees Fahrenheit, because the waters are calm, they still have some hope.

Joie, back to you.

CHEN: CNN's Gary Tuchman reporting to us from the Kitty Wake, a Coast Guard vessel in Honolulu Bay today.

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