HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Saturday marked exactly 12 years since a U.S. Navy submarine struck and sank the Japanese fishery training vessel Ehime Maru, killing nine crewmembers, including four high school students.
The anniversary of the tragedy drew 19 family members of the crew, as well as officials from Japan and their Hawaii counterparts. They mourned what was called "an unspeakable tragedy." But at the same time, they marked the many goodwill efforts that have resulted from the accident.
"The result of what happened 12 years ago just a few minutes past could have been anger, could have been retribution, could have been a sundering of relationships, a tearing apart of two people," Gov. Neil Abercrombie told the gathering.
Many at the gathering spoke about how instead, efforts were made to bring Japan and Hawaii closer together, a way for the living to honor those who lost their lives.
"And that mean forgiveness. That means compassion. And that means rededicating ourselves to greater understanding to our two countries," said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
The ceremony was held at the Ehime Maru Memorial at Kakaako Waterfront Park, within sight of where the accident happened. The vessel was recovered, and then eventually sunk in deep waters several miles south of Barbers Point, also within sight of the memorial.
Officials laid wreaths and paid tribute at the memorial. One of the wreaths was laid by Rear Adm. Scott Weikert of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, who stood at attention and gave a slow salute at the memorial.
After the official wreath laying, family members of the crew draped the memorial with lei.
Tatsuyoshi Mizuguchi's son died in the accident; his body is the only one that was not recovered. Mizuguchi spoke for the families and also reflected on the goodwill efforts. "It's because of the people of Hawaii and the aloha spirit that is probably one of the reasons it turned into those good relationships programs," he said, through an interpreter.
Under the Buddhist tradition, memorials for the dead are marked on the third and seventh years; also under the tradition, the second year is marked one year after the event, and so on. Therefore, Saturday's event marked was the Jusankaiki, or the 13th year anniversary, an important one for Buddhists. It's also one of the last major memorial anniversaries.
"My sense is that this brings some kind of closure for the families and to the people here, and we may not have another formal ceremony after this," said Edwin Hawkins, president of the Ehime Maru Memorial Association.