Saturday, January 08, 2005


Japan to study salvaging war dead remains from sunken ship

January 07, 2005

OSAKA, Japan - (KRT) - The Japanese Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry is planning to investigate the possibility of salvaging the remains of the war dead on an Imperial Japanese Navy transport ship that was sunk off Palau in the southern Pacific Ocean 60 years ago during World War II, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Friday.

The ministry decided to take the action in response to the demands of an 86-year-old former crew member of the transport ship, Iro. The ministry is asking the Palau government for cooperation through the Foreign Ministry, and plans to begin the operation as early as this spring.

The former crew member says he dreams of the day when the remains of his fallen comrades will be returned to Japan.

The ship was attacked by U.S. forces while anchored off Palau in March 1944. The ship sank after an explosion near the engine room. Of about 230 crew members, at least 39 are believed to have died.

One of the surviving crew members, Tomimatsu Ishikawa of Kuwana, Japan, drifted out to sea holding on to a raft. Threading his way through machine-gun fire, he reached a nearby island and was rescued.

After his discharge a year after the end of World War II, he operated a shipping firm and was blessed with three children and eight grandchildren. But as the years passed, and he had more spare time, he became unable to get the thoughts of the soldiers who perished on the ship out of his mind.

In September 1995, 50 years after the end of the war, Ishikawa went diving off Palau at the age of 77 after taking diving lessons from Koichi Tsubomoto, 67, an Osaka-based photographer who takes photos of vessels sunk in the war. Ishikawa offered flowers to the sunken ship and mourned for his dead comrades.

He again went diving off Palau last March, shortly after his 86th birthday, and could not stop thinking about the war dead. Soon after he returned from Palau, he asked the central government to salvage the remains.

The government was at first reluctant to collect the remains, saying that the sea is the final resting place for those who went down with ships sunk in the war. However, the government reconsidered and decided to investigate salvaging the remains as a special measure on the grounds that the Iro is located in a relatively shallow depth of about 20 meters, and the remains may be exposed to divers.

From 1984 to 1995, the government on three occasions salvaged the remains of sunken ships in the Truk Islands, where the Imperial Japanese Army had a military base.

© 2005, The Yomiuri Shimbun.

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