- The Washington Times - Monday, February 26, 2001

Officers aboard the USS Greeneville when it rammed the Ehime Maru have told investigators conflicting stories about what happened just before the fatal accident.
The investigative report, portions of which were read by a Navy source to The Washington Times, portend contentious hearings when the Navy Court of Inquiry meets March 5 in Honolulu.
The Navy has named as subjects to the inquiry the Greeneville's captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle (CO); Lt. Cmdr. Gerald K. Pfeifer, the executive officer; and Lt. j.g. Michael J. Coen, the officer of the deck (OOD). One role of the Court of Inquiry is to decide whether the officers should face criminal charges.
The three officers' statements to Navy investigators suggest that the three men, rather than being allies during the inquiry, will be adversaries who blame each other's actions for the sinking of the Japanese fishing vessel.
A Navy investigator's summary of the interview one day after the accident said, "Cmdr. Waddle stated that [Lt. Coen] was a newly qualified OOD and that he regularly had to tell him what to do."
Cmdr. Pfeifer, however, shifts blame toward his commanding officer.
Cmdr. Pfeifer told investigators Cmdr. Waddle was too quick to bring the submarine to periscope depth in preparation for an emergency surfacing drill, or "blow." He said the crew still did not know enough about two sonar signatures of surface ships, one of which turned out to be the fishing vessel Ehime Maru.
"Very quick for CO to order ship to [periscope depth]," said an investigator's notes of an interview with Cmdr. Pfeifer. "[Executive officer] and [officer of the deck] did not really feel comfortable with contacts."
The Washington Times reported on Friday that a preliminary Navy investigation blamed a series of crew errors as the reason the Greeneville surfaced and rammed the Japanese ship. Nine teen-agers and crew among 35 passengers are missing and presumed dead.
The report, by Adm. Charles Griffiths, a submarine group commander, said the sub detected the Ehime Maru via passive sonar. But the crew failed to follow proper procedures to determine the ship's exact location before conducting the fatal "blow."
The report also said Cmdr. Waddle's periscope scan beforehand was too brief and not high enough. And the report said a "significant" number of crew and VIP civilian guests on the periscope stand "did interfere" with control room communication. It said the fire control technician had tracked the Ehime Maru to as close as 2,000 yards, but failed to tell Cmdr. Waddle because of the civilians' presence.
During his interview, Cmdr. Pfeifer emphasized his belief that Cmdr. Waddle moved too hastily.
"Overheard CO tell OOD make preps for [periscope depth]. Want to be at [periscope depth] in five minutes," the investigator's notes say. "[Cmdr. Pfeifer] thinks that that is very aggressive … [Cmdr. Pfeifer] thought 'whoa.' [He] wanted a broached look. Did not tell CO."
A Navy source says Cmdr. Waddle did not learn until days after the accident that his fire control technician failed to tell him the Ehime Maru, labeled S-13 by the sub's crew, was possibly only 2,000 yards away. Cmdr. Waddle's standing order was to report any contact within 10,000 yards.
The omission will likely pit the commander against the technician during the Court of Inquiry proceedings.
During a two-minute periscope search, neither Cmdr. Waddle nor Lt. Coen saw the oncoming Ehime Maru, which at the time was likely within 2,000 yards. The Navy report states that the search was neither long enough nor high enough to detect the oncoming Ehime Maru.
Cmdr. Pfeifer told investigators, "Thought that is not a high look but that is the way the CO has always done it."
Lt. Coen told investigators he was concerned the captain was about to operate outside a submarine test area.
"Lt. Coen expressed that he was concerned because he thought they had only about five miles ahead within their authorized submerged operating area," according to notes of his interview.
The officer said that the Feb. 9 blow was his first and he was "excited, tight" in the minutes leading up to the drill.
He also said he was unable to complete his periscope search before Cmdr. Waddle took over and performed the scan.
Lt. Coen also contended he told the fire control technician to "forcefully report if a contact was close."
The Navy's preliminary report states the technician did not report to the captain his plotting of the Ehime Maru because the periscope platform was crowded with crew and civilian guests. The Navy invited 16 business leaders on board for the Greeneville's six-hour cruise.
The confidential report said, "The location and number of civilian visitors did interfere with the ability of the OOD and commanding officer to use the fire control system and converse with the [technician] in ascertaining the contact picture from the time the ship was preparing for periscope depth until the emergency blow was conducted. Better distribution of the civilian visitors could have dramatically improved this situation."
In other developments, Cmdr. Waddle yesterday issued his first public statement since the Feb. 9 accident that claimed nine Japanese lives. In a statement released by his attorney, Charles Gittins, Cmdr. Waddle said in part, "It is with a heavy heart that I express my most sincere regret to the Japanese people and most importantly, to the families of those lost and injured in the collision."
The Naval Academy graduate said he hopes that the inquiry discovers the true cause of the collision in order to prevent such accidents in the future.
"Such actions must be taken to preserve the honor of those who lost their lives, the honor of their families, my family's honor, the honor of the Greeneville crew and the honor of our two nations," he said.
It is not clear whether the officer's statement, which fell short of an apology, will soothe Japanese ire over the accident. The Navy is sending its second-ranking officer, Adm. William J. Fallon, to Tokyo this week to express U.S. apology for the Greeneville's sinking of the Ehime Maru.
Cmdr. Waddle's public statement said in part:
"I know that the accident has caused unimaginable grief to the families of the Ehime Maru missing students, instructors and crew members, to the Uwajima Fisheries High School, to Ehime Maru Captain Hisao Onishi, to the Uwajima city communities, and to all of the Japanese people. No words can adequately express my condolences and concern for those who have lost their loved ones. I too grieve for the families and the catastrophic losses that the families have endured."
"The investigation that is about to begin at Pearl Harbor hopefully will resolve the questions and uncertainties surrounding this tragedy. It is my most sincere desire to determine the truth about what happened so that such a disastrous accident never again occurs."
Legal sources say that with legal proceedings ahead, it would be unwise for Cmdr. Waddle to issue an apology and thus imply wrongdoing on his part.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide