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US sub commander expresses `regret' to Japanese victims of collision

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February 26, 2001 


TOKYO- (AP) - The commander of the U.S. submarine that struck and sunk a Japanese trawler off Hawaii expressed his "most sincere regret" on Sunday - but stopped short of an apology.

"It is with a heavy heart that I express my most sincere regret" for the accident, Cmdr. Scott Waddle said in a statement sent by his lawyer to Japan's NHK public television network and broadcast to a national audience here Sunday evening.

Waddle was commanding the USS Greenville when it rammed the Ehime Maru off Oahu on Feb. 9. Nine of the 35 people on board the Japanese vessel, operated by a high school for aspiring commercial fishermen, went missing and are presumed dead.

The families of the missing Japanese have demanded a personal apology from Waddle. Their anger has been stoked by revelations that civilian guests were at the controls of the sub at the time of the accident.

But in his statement, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press by Waddle's lawyer, Charles Gittins, the Navy commander offered only "condolences and concern."

"I know that the accident has caused unimaginable grief to the families of the Ehime Maru's missing students, instructors and crew members ... and to all of the Japanese people," he said. "No words can adequately express my condolences and concern for those who have lost their loved ones."

The statement, which NHK said was the first Waddle has made public since the accident, may do little to cool emotions in Japan.

Shunsuke Terata, whose 17-year-old brother Yusuke is one of four students from the Uwajima Fisheries High School still missing, told The Associated Press by telephone from his home in southwestern Japan that his family was not satisfied.

"We refuse to accept it as an apology," said Terata, 15. "It's not an apology until he says it to each one of us in person."

U.S. Navy investigators are trying to determine whether the presence of 16 civilians on the submarine led to mistakes that caused the collision.

Waddle said in the statement that he wants full disclosure of the causes "so that such a disastrous accident never again occurs."

Last week, the United States decided to send a senior Navy official to Tokyo with a presidential letter and an apology for the sinking of the Ehime Maru.

Adm. William J. Fallon, the vice chief of naval operations, will arrive in Tokyo this week to hand-deliver a letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori.

Uwajima is about 700 kilometers (430 miles) southwest of Tokyo.

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