- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2001

HONOLULU (AP) By turns apologetic and defensive, the skipper of the submarine that sank a Japanese fishing boat took the stand yesterday, blaming errors by himself and his crew.

"These mistakes were honest and well-intentioned," said Cmdr. Scott Waddle, who testified as the Navy court of inquiry ended.

In a closing statement, Cmdr. Waddle's civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, implored the three presiding admirals not to recommend a court-martial.

Mr. Gittins blamed the accident on a series of extraordinary circumstances that he said could not be duplicated.

"Commander Waddle exercised his judgment, and he did his level best. He may have fallen short on that day, but it wasn't criminal," Mr. Gittins said.

Under investigation are Cmdr. Waddle; his executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer; and the officer of the deck, Lt. j.g. Michael Coen.

All three men could face courts-martial. Before Cmdr. Waddle testified, a Navy lawyer listed the crimes he is suspected of committing: dereliction of duty, improper hazarding of a vessel and negligent homicide.

The admirals are expected to take three weeks to report on their findings and to recommend whether the officers should be punished. The report goes to Adm. Thomas Fargo, head of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, who has up to 30 days to review it and take final action.

Lt. Cmdr. Brent Filbert, representing Lt. j.g. Coen, said the problem of the collision has "a very simple answer. It has a human answer. The commanding officer, Cmdr. Waddle, rushed himself and rushed his crew."

Cmdr. Waddle's sworn testimony was a surprise because his attorney had indicated he would not testify without immunity, which the Navy rejected.

Cmdr. Waddle said he asked for immunity "in the event the international and political environment dictated that I be sacrificed to an unwarranted court-martial."

While criticizing the Navy's decision, he said he decided it was imperative he speak.

"This court and the families need to hear from me," he said, turning to face some of the victims' relatives. The wives of two of those killed brushed away tears as Cmdr. Waddle spoke.

Outside the hearing, Ryosuke Terata, whose son was among those killed, said the families welcomed the skipper's testimony as "keeping his promise that he made to us when he apologized."

The USS Greeneville smashed into the Japanese fishing vessel Ehime Maru while demonstrating a rapid-surfacing drill for 16 civilians. Nine persons, including four teen-age boys, were killed.

Cmdr. Waddle said he was "truly sorry for the loss of life and the incalculable grief."

"As commanding officer, I am solely responsible for this truly tragic accident, and for the rest of my life I will live with the horrible consequences of my decisions and actions that resulted in the loss of the Ehime Maru," he said.

But he also told the three admirals presiding over the court, "I was trying my best to do the job that I was assigned" and appeared to shift some of the blame to his crew for failing to provide sufficient backup.

The inquiry has focused on whether Cmdr. Waddle rushed preparations for surfacing and whether he performed an inadequate periscope search before taking the Greeneville up.

Their voices sometimes rising in impatience, the three admirals presiding over the court questioned Cmdr. Waddle closely about the decisions he made, including giving a junior officer five minutes to perform a maneuver that couldn't be done that quickly.

They also went over an 80-second periscope search a standard search is three minutes shortly before the collision.

"This is clearly your last good chance to have avoided" the boat, said Rear Adm. Paul Sullivan.

"I don't know why I didn't see the Ehime Maru. I know that I didn't," Cmdr. Waddle said.

The commander said he had no reason to doubt his crew. "I didn't micromanage my crew. I empowered them to do their job," he said.

For example, Cmdr. Waddle said he didn't know that nine of 13 watch stations were not manned by the originally designated crewmen and that one sonar station was watched by a trainee rather than a qualified crew member. The commander said he assumes crewmen took it on themselves to swap stations and relieve colleagues.

"Well, captain, it was your boat," interjected Vice Adm. John Nathman, the presiding officer.

Adm. Nathman also questioned whether Cmdr. Waddle, who took the submarine on a series of sharp turns for civilian guests, was "just giving them the E-ticket ride at Disneyland on a submarine."

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