Photo/IllutrationThe name of the Heian Maru ship is clearly visible even underwater. (Provided by Treasures, a dive operator in Chuuk state)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

YOKOHAMA--They started out as a trio, but only one survives.

They are the sister ships Hikawa Maru, Heian Maru and Hie Maru, which all began life as passenger-cargo liners in 1930 and saw service during World War II.

Visitors to the NYK Maritime Museum here are now able to compare photos of the Heian Maru, which lies about 16 meters below the turquoise waters off the Chuuk Islands, and the Hikawa Maru.

As the grand old lady of the three, the Hikawa Maru is berthed next to Yamashita Park in Yokohama in stately fashion and features as a major tourist attraction.

The three vessels transported passengers, raw silk and other products on the Seattle route until it was shut down as war loomed.

The Heian Maru was drafted to serve as a mother ship for submarines, but sank in February 1944 after coming under U.S. aerial attack near the Chuuk Islands, formerly known as the Truk Islands.

The Hie Maru sank in November 1943 in the Western Pacific.

Photos of the Heian Maru wreck serve as a basis for the exhibition that runs until April 22.

Yuki Ogawa, assistant curator at the NYK Maritime Museum, said, "After about 70 years, the wreck had deteriorated. I hope visitors will realize that the Hikawa Maru had a sister ship and think about that ship as well."

The photos illustrate the close similarity in various parts of the Hikawa Maru and Heian Maru, such as the main deck, the equipment to lower lifeboats, the nameplate in the engine room, the panel board switch and the cabin where the telephone operators were based.

Admission to the museum is 400 yen ($3.75) for adults and 250 yen for junior high school and senior high school students as well as senior citizens over 65.

Additional information in English about the museum can be obtained at the website (