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President Bush apologized to Japan on Saturday for the accidental sinking of a Japanese fishing vessel by a U.S. nuclear submarine as the search for four students and five other missing Japanese continued off the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Bush expressed "regrets and condolences," and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell phoned Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono to apologize for the incident, which occurred Friday afternoon when the USS Greeneville surfaced and crashed into the trawler Ehime Maru, which sank with 35 people aboard.

Nine high school fisheries students and 17 crew members were rescued. Navy and Coast Guard aircraft and vessels are searching a 300-square-mile area for the remaining nine people -- four 17-year-old students, two teachers and three crew members.

Chief Petty Officer Gary Openshaw, a Coast Guard spokesman in Hawaii, said that despite some showers and limited visibility, rescuers remained optimistic that other survivors might still be alive in the 77-degree water.

Families of the missing planned to fly to Honolulu today to be close to the recovery effort.

The Navy said it was trying to learn why the submarine, which was practicing an emergency surfacing maneuver, rammed into the trawler.

At a depth of about 60 feet, the submarine does periscope and acoustic searches for hazards in the surrounding water, said Lt. Cmdr. Dave Werner, spokesman for the commander of Submarine Forces Pacific.

If the area is found to be clear, the vessel returns to a greater depth and then surges to the surface, Werner said.

Officials said the investigation will determine whether that procedure was followed.

A Navy spokesman said the submarine's rudder and port side showed scrapes from the collision and was returning to her home port of Pearl Harbor after joining in the search and rescue effort.

Also Saturday, the National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a five-member team to Hawaii to investigate the collision. The incident falls under the agency's jurisdiction because it occurred in U.S. waters and involved at least one private vessel, said spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz.

In Japan, Prime Minster Yoshiro Mori interrupted a golf game to rush back to the capital and establish an emergency command center at his official residence to monitor developments.

"The United States extended its apologies and promised utmost efforts to find the missing," Mori said. "I pray the missing are found as soon as possible."

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