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Relatives of Ehime Maru victims view wreckage scanned by robot

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February 19, 2001 


HONOLULU--(AP) - Japanese family members examined videotape of the sunken ship Ehime Maru sitting upright on the ocean floor as a top U.S. Navy official announced a high-level investigation into why a U.S. submarine surfaced directly underneath it, leaving nine of their relatives missing and presumed dead.

The videotape, taken by robot submersibles, shows the exterior of the fishing vessel seemingly in pristine condition, with no signs of the nine men and boys who have been missing since Feb. 9 when the USS Greeneville collided with the ship during an emergency surfacing drill.

Damage to the bottom of the boat was not visible because of the downward angle of the video, taken 2,033 feet below the ocean surface, Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Greg Fondran said Saturday.

Relatives have demanded answers as to why the 360-foot (108-meter) nuclear-powered submarine stationed two civilians at key controls during the emergency drill. As the 6,900-ton (6,279-metric ton) submarine surfaced, its rudder superstructure knifed through the hull of the 500-ton (455-metric ton) Ehime Maru, which sank within minutes.

Twenty-six survivors were plucked from the waters near Pearl Harbor. The remaining nine crew and passengers are missing and presumed dead.

"The court of inquiry will provide a full and open accounting for the American and Japanese people," Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the Pacific Fleet, said during a news conference Saturday.

Fargo said the Navy expected to convene the inquiry - the Navy's highest form of administrative investigation - at Pearl Harbor on Thursday.

The hearing could result in a recommendation for courts-martial of the USS Greeneville's officers, Fargo said.

The submarine's commander, executive officer and officer of the deck have been named parties to the inquiry.

Three Navy flag officers will make up the court, Fargo said. A flag officer of the Japanese Maritime Self-defense Force will be invited to participate as an adviser.

"The seriousness in which I view this tragic accident is reflected in the level of investigation and the seniority of the court members," Fargo said.

The submarine's commander, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, was reassigned to a staff position after the incident. The other two officers named were Lt. Cmdr. Gerald K. Pfeifer and Lt.j.g. Michael J. Coen.

"The families have been a great concern of ours throughout this past week," said Fargo. "I've got a great empathy for the Japanese people and their families and we'll do everything in our power to make sure we have a full accounting on this accident and take care of their needs here in Hawaii."

As for the families' demand for an apology from Waddle, the admiral noted that because Waddle's actions are under investigation "there are legal implications, I think, with respect to that. It will certainly be his judgment."

Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, offered the apologies of the U.S. government when he met with Seishiro Eto, Japan's senior vice minister for foreign affairs, on Saturday, said command spokeswoman Army Lt. Col. Christy Samuels.

Anguished family members and the Japanese government have called for the ship's recovery, an operation experts say would be difficult and expensive.

Whether the Ehime Maru is in a condition that would allow it to be raised intact could not be determined from the videos taken Saturday, said Jon Yoshishige, a spokesman for the Pacific Fleet.

The Coast Guard has extended its search for bodies through the holiday weekend.


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