- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

HONOLULU A long lunch for a U.S. submarine's guests forced a nearly 45-minute delay in the emergency-surfacing maneuver that led to a fatal collision with a Japanese fishing boat, an admiral testified yesterday.

Rear Adm. Charles Griffiths, who led the Navy's investigation into the accident, was the first to testify at a court of inquiry into the collision that left nine Japanese boys and men missing.

The USS Greeneville, a nuclear attack submarine, was demonstrating an emergency-surfacing drill for 16 civilians when it knifed through the hull of the Ehime Maru Feb. 9. The boat, carrying 35 persons, was on an expedition to teach high school students from Uwajima, Japan, how to fish. Four teens, two teachers and three crewmen never were found.

The drill had been planned for 1 p.m., but it was pushed back until 1:43 p.m. because lunch dragged on, Adm. Griffiths said. The crew had to feed guests in two shifts because the mess hall was so small.

He was asked whether the delay was causing concerns.

"I don't know if I would say concerned," he said. "A professional reminder was provided by the navigator to the executive officer to the commanding officer that the ship was behind schedule."

Adm. Griffiths said that Cmdr. Scott Waddle, who was chatting with his guests in the mess hall, responded to the notice by saying: "I have it under control."

Adm. Griffiths said Cmdr. Waddle emphasized spending quality time with his guests during the lunch break.

"He took his time … so that ran over," he said.

Later, with the ship falling behind schedule, Cmdr. Waddle ordered his crew to go to periscope depth in five minutes, despite procedures that required at least 10 minutes to check for surface vessels, Adm. Griffiths said.

"He wanted to get to periscope depth in a hurry," the admiral said. "I can surmise it was because they were late from their previous schedule."

Then, Cmdr. Waddle and his officer of the deck performed an 80-second periscope search that was too brief, Adm. Griffiths said. Generally, a thorough periscope search takes about three minutes.

"That ship should have been seen given enough time by the periscope operator," Adm. Griffiths said. "The ship went deep too quickly."

Adm. Griffiths also said that a sonar officer who was supposed to be monitoring a trainee in the sonar room spent much of his time dealing with guests instead.

That meant that in the sonar room, there was one qualified sonar officer, one supervisor and the trainee. The sonar room monitors surface vessels.

Adm. Griffiths said under Navy requirements, a second qualified sonar officer should have been with the trainee at all times.

"His assigned duties officially were to be a tour guide for the guests," Adm. Griffiths said. "Somebody qualified should have consistently been overseeing that operator."

A panel of three other Navy admirals will recommend whether any disciplinary action is warranted against the Greeneville's top officers, Cmdr. Waddle, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer, the executive officer, and Lt. j.g. Michael Coen, the officer of the deck.

Cmdr. Waddle, Cmdr. Pfeifer and Lt. Coen could face anything from a reprimand to court-martial. Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, will review the court's recommendations and take final action. The court also could suggest changes to Navy policies.

The opening session of the inquiry was dominated by procedural matters, with families of some of the victims sitting in the front row.

"I'd like to know everything, especially what was going on inside the submarine, in chronological order," said Ryosuke Terata, the father of a missing teen-ager.

Cmdr. Waddle, walking hand-in-hand with his wife, declined to comment when he arrived for the hearing. In a brief e-mail exchange with USA Today, Cmdr. Waddle asked people to "please pray for those lost at sea." He added, "Pray for me."

"My career is terminated an accident of this sort, whether or not I am exonerated, will end my career," Cmdr. Waddle wrote for the March 12 issue of Time.

[At the start of the hearing, Cmdr. Waddle's attorney, Charles Gittins, objected to the presence of Adm. Isamu Ozawa of Japan as a nonvoting member of the court. He said U.S. Navy rules don't seem to allow this, Reuters reported.]

The main issues before the court are whether the crew gave the officers enough information to let them detect the Ehime Maru, whether the civilians inhibited the crew from doing its job and why Cmdr. Waddle and Lt. Coen did not see the fishing vessel when they looked through the periscope.

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