Over Mount Fuji – Chapter 15 –

Over Mount Fuji - a novelThe sub slowed and hovered before the relic on a blanched plain. Eileen joined the flurry of crew activity. She pressed against the porthole and scanned the ocean floor.

They had found a wreck, but how would it be relevant?

When Kiichi flipped on full power, the floodlights cut through the murky waters and reflected off the barnacle-encrusted hull.

“Do we know what ship it is?” Nishihara slid his gold-rimmed glasses up his nose. “Can we find this place on our chart?”

“We’re inside the eastern edge of Izu-Ogasawara Trench,” Kiichi said.

Eileen stared at a giant rotten wood as it appeared from the edge of the impact crater. How did it sink? When? “This might be the remains of an ancient trading ship or one of Cheng Ho’s armada.”

“No such wooden ship has sunk in this area during the last six hundred years,” Nishihara said. “But it could go further back to one of Kublai Khan’s fleet.”

“The Mongol Dynasty ended almost seven hundred years ago,” Wulfstein said when an endless procession of silvery trays, copper kettles, porcelain plates and bowls, bronze gears, and capstan crowns appeared—some lying one on top of another, others partly covered by barnacles and sand, all polished by a relentless current. “And their ships were mainly made from huge wood.” He keyed commands into his laptop and the screen registered splintered images from the monitors: position of plotline, depth and time.

Eileen stood, transfixed as corroded ventilator shaft appeared, followed by a rusted stern and its rudder protruding outward. Soon, twisted pipes gave way to heavier pieces of metal. “It looks enormous,” she said. “This might be a cruiser or even an aircraft carrier.”

“Berge Istra!” Kiichi said, staring intensely at a nameplate coming into view.

“I’ve heard of that ship,” Eileen said. “It was much larger than the Titanic.”

Wulfstein tapped the keyboard. “Berge Istra sank in 1975 over the Mindanao Trench. Two surviving crew members testified they’d heard explosions before the ship went down.” He entered further commands into his computer, and an outline of another ship appeared, the Berge Vanga. “Three years and ten months later, her sister ship also sank.”

Keiko glided above the wreckage.

“The Berge Istra is a marine mystery,” Wulfstein said. “Its 228,000-ton displacement exceeded all those ships that disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. No trace of the wreck has ever been located. Both it and its sister ship were owned by the same company, built in the same shipyard. They even traveled the same route.”

Eileen marveled at the remains. Iron implements jutted out like petrified fingers—anchors, grommets from pulley blocks, mortars and fragments of glass-faced instruments. Scattered all over, metallic rubble and huge sheets of a riveted hull-plate appeared, a graveyard for ships.

“Look!” She pointed toward the deck at starboard. “The right side has protruded upward.”

Kiichi lowered Keiko for closer observation. “This starboard hull is indented.”

“What does that mean?” she asked.

“I don’t know, but let’s check the portside,” Wulfstein said.

Kiichi complied, guiding the sub over the deck to examine the left hull.

“The portside looks normal,” Eileen said. “So what’s your conclusion?”

“It appears something had rammed the starboard,” Wulfstein said.

“What could have caused such damage?” Nishihara pressed his nose against the glass. “And why can’t we find any gold ingot?”

“Pirates might have been here before us,” Eileen said.

The Sensei turned to Eileen. “But this is way too deep for any pirate to reach.”

More debris drifted across the video monitors. Eileen gripped the porthole handrail and stared at Nishihara, whom she suspected, had been dwelling on the lost riches of the sea as another wreck emerged—anchors, cannons and cannonballs—covered with barnacles and positioned at various angles, many resting upright, others upended.

Keiko’s light picked up different shapes and sizes of Thai and Chinese vases, a hundred rusting objects laid beside modern ruins. Others, not so old, reflected the glare of the searchlights on their ironwork and copper hulls.

“The Kaiyo Maru—” Byron pointed to another site.

“Kaiyo Maru No. 5,” Wulfstein said. “New ships jumbled among the old, all dumped at the same site.”

“Why here?” Eileen asked. “How could this happen?”

“We’re right above the faultline,” Byron said. “And the plates might plummet in jerks, releasing gas trapped beneath.”

“This doesn’t make sense,” she said. “The release of gases may cause a ship to plunge, but how does this explain the disappearance of Kaiiko?” She knew some ship sinking could be caused by methane gas. Its upsurge would reduce the specific gravity of water, rendering it unable to support the weight of a ship. But how could this explain the Hornets being sucked out of the sky?

Eileen recalled a research paper she had typed for her late husband who had presented it to Professor Wulfstein: From 1949 to 1954, ten large fishing vessels and coastguard cutters vanished without a trace, including the Kaiyo Maru No. 5.

“Berlitz’s speculation is worth looking into,” Jerry had written. “There is something bizarre about the Ma-no Umi.” His idea of a mysterious beast roaming in this area was considered far-fetched by his colleagues. And his presentation to the scientific community had drawn further criticism.

In ancient and medieval times, crews readily accepted tales of sea creatures that often attack and destroy their crafts. “This needs further investigation,” Jerry concluded.

A piece of the puzzle had been missing. The disappearance of ships always featured in epic stories. Some scientists in news reports had given credence to the existence of sea creatures. Magazines and talk-shows in Japan often quoted ancient legends—suggesting sea monsters swallowed these ships in one gulp.

“Another name.” Eileen pointed at the video screen. “Taiho.”

“This could give us a clue to the lost ships,” Kiichi said. “I could imagine typhoons traversing the sea here, sinking these ships so fast they couldn’t send a message.”

“The ship’s equipment might be damaged by a typhoon,” Yoshino said. “But this contradicts evidence. Crewmen reported explosions, so we know this doesn’t make sense.”

A feeling of awe descended among the crew as they fell quiet; some looked on with wide eyes, others cringed back from the portholes.

The Sensei kept silent for a long moment, looking as if he was trying to peer ahead into the black depths. Finally, he said, “Let’s go.”

Kiichi stomped on the pedal and the sub accelerated. Enthralled, Eileen recorded its coordinates and watched the rusty railings, chains and stanchions.

“Wait . . . Wait!” Wulfstein yelled from the porthole.

The skipper complied, slowing the sub to a stop.

“Have any of you noticed something odd?” Wulfstein asked.

Eileen joined the Professor at the porthole.

“Look here,” Wulfstein said, pointing. “The hull shows a peculiar type of damage.”

She nodded. “I see what you mean. It looks like an explosion.”

“No, Eileen. In an explosion, its hull would have been torn outward.”

“Not if a torpedo had caused the explosion,” Yoshino said.

“These wrecks couldn’t have been caused by tsunamis,” Kiichi said.

“Not a tsunami, not a seaquake,” Wulfstein said.

Eileen shook her head. “Not even a torpedo?”

“The entire hull bends inward,” Wulfstein added. “If it was a torpedo, the damaged areas would have sported sharp and pointed marks.”

“Have we missed something?” Yoshino asked. “Let’s go back and reexamine all the wreckage.”

©) Joel Huan, author of Over Mount Fuji (available from Amazon and Barnes&Noble)

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~ by Joel on December 28, 2009.

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