The sub commander is denied
immunity but says testifying
is the right thing to do
By Gregg K. Kakesako
Navy Cmdr. Scott Waddle, beleaguered captain of the nuclear submarine that rammed the Japanese fishing vessel Ehime Maru nearly six weeks ago, took the witness stand in his defense today, admitting he made "mistakes" and was "truly sorry."
Decision may take months
Japanese prime minister arrives
Waddle, skipper of the Pearl Harbor-based USS Greeneville, told a Navy court of inquiry he did his duty on Feb. 9 -- the day of the collision -- "to the best of my ability."
"I made a mistake or mistakes; those mistakes were unintentional; I am truly sorry," he said.
Before Waddle began testifying, Navy officials said he is suspected of committing three offenses: dereliction of duty, improper hazarding (putting his vessel in hazardous conditions) and negligent homicide.
Yesterday, his attorney, Charles Gittins, said Waddle would not testify because he had not been granted testimonial immunity by Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
But Waddle, who will be eligible for retirement in June after 20 years in the Navy, said he was willing to forfeit his ability to defend himself at a possible court martial because "the court and the families need to hear from me."
Waddle, 41, dressed in Navy whites, said he was testifying "because it is the right thing to do."
Rear Adm. David Stone, one of the three admirals sitting on the court, commended Waddle for stepping forward, saying that he is accountable as a commander. Regardless of the consequences, Stone said, "truth is essential to command."
Over the past 11 days, Navy lawyers have portrayed Waddle as a gregarious and caring commanding officer who, on Feb. 9, seemed to forego his meticulous side to hurriedly demonstrate to the 16 civilian guests aboard the Greeneville how well his sub could perform.
Stone told Waddle that he was disturbed by what seemed to be "a loose organization," noting that nine of the 13 sailors on the sub that day weren't in their designated positions and an unqualified sonarman was on duty without proper supervision.
Waddle, who assumed command of the Greeneville in March, 1999, said such a practice was wrong, but added that this was the first time he believed it had happened.
"That practice (allowing an unsupervised trainee in sonar) was wrong and should have never been allowed," Waddle said. "It surprised me and it took two years and a horrible accident to raise this issue."
Waddle said leaving a third of his crew ashore the day of the collision was "not a typical day. He said: "I may have done it on two other occasions when we took visitors to sea. They (crew members) were left in port to participate in training or to give them a break as directed by the commander of the submarine forces."
When asked why he took the Greeneville beyond its test depth of 800 feet and ran it beyond a speed of 25 knots, Waddle said it was to demonstrate the capabilities of the sub to the 16 civilians.
But Vice Adm. John Nathman, president of the court of inquiry, questioned violating the Navy's rules against releasing classified information. "Isn't this like just giving them an e-ticket ride?"
Waddle replied that it wasn't a joy ride.
Nathman also questioned the wisdom of giving the 16 civilians water samples and specially-labeled bottles drawn at the classified test depth as mementos.
When asked why he performed the emergency main ballast tank blow for the visitors, Waddle said he did it "to demonstrate the sub's capabilities."
Yesterday, Petty Officer Patrick Seacrest, Greeneville's fire control technician, testified that he failed to warn Waddle that the Ehime Maru was 4,000 yards away and closing in on a collision course.
In addition to Waddle, Lt. j.g. Michael Coen, the Greeneville officer of the deck that day, also requested immunity. However, his request was never forwarded to Fargo for consideration.
Coen, 26, told the court that he accepts "full responsibility" of what occurred Feb. 9.
Addressing family members of those killed in the collision, Coen apologized, saying: "While I cannot comprehend the grief you must feel, I want you to know that you're in my thoughts and prayers all the time.
"It is clear that my name will be associated with this event for the rest of my life. I cannot change that, and I accept that."
But Coen, who has been in the Navy for four years, said the day he pinned on his submariner's dolphins was the proudest one in his life. It is still his desire "to continue to wear this uniform and serve on board a submarine in the United States Navy."
The third party to the inquiry, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer, the sub's executive officer, did not request immunity and turned over his personal notes for the record.
Earlier yesterday, Seacrest testified that he performed "poorly" and failed to provide the necessary backup for Greeneville's key officers. Seacrest, who was granted immunity, said he failed to warn Waddle that the Ehime Maru was within 4,000 yards -- contrary to the standing orders established by Waddle for the Greeneville.
As the ship was preparing to climb from 150 feet to a periscope depth of 60 feet, Seacrest said he was tracking three sonar contacts and was distracted momentarily while trying to identify the third sonar contact.
Seacrest also said he didn't have adequate time to analyze the contact that later turned out to be the Ehime Maru.
When the Navy's rare court of inquiry adjourns later this week, its members -- three senior U.S. admirals -- will spend a week deliberating over the testimony presented over the past 11 days.
may come months
after probe ends
By Gregg K. Kakesako
Navy officials estimate it will take an additional three to four weeks for the court's staff to prepare a final report of findings of fact and recommendations concerning the Feb. 9 collision between the USS Greeneville and the Japanese fishing training vessel Ehime Maru.
The three officers -- Vice Adm. John Nathman, Rear Adm. Paul Sullivan and Rear Adm. David Stone -- will then return to Hawaii to review the final report before transmitting it to Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Fleet commander.
Fargo will then have 30 days to make a determination. Fargo may accept or reject the recommendations, or make his own independent findings.
The court's report, however, will not be made public.
The options available to Fargo include:
>> Taking no action.
>> Convening a captain's mast or an admiral's mast, which are Navy boards that can mete out punishment short of discharge.
>> Convening an administrative "show cause" board, which will determine if an individual should remain in the Navy.
>> Convening a general court-martial if there had been any evidence of criminal negligence.
The three Greeneville officers could face punishments ranging from exoneration to discharge.
The court of inquiry also could determine that other Greeneville crewmen should be held accountable, even if they weren't the focus of the current investigation.
An Article 32 judicial hearing probably would be convened to determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant the convening of a court-martial.
Such a proceeding is similar to a grand jury in the civilian sector, except that it is held in open court.
The court of inquiry was asked to investigate the facts surrounding the collision and to determine fault or responsibility. It also was asked to examine the policies of the Pacific Fleet's submarine force in implementing its distinguished visitor embarkation program, under which 16 civilians went to sea on the Greeneville.
Finally, it was asked to determine the propriety of the area where the sub was operating when the collision occurred nine miles south of Diamond Head.
The prime minister of Japan, Yoshiro Mori, arrived at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu this morning and was to visit the Ehime Maru accident site today.
Mori here toStaff and wire reports
visit accident site
Mori was to take the Navatek, a chartered boat, to the accident site. The Associated Press reported that the prime minister initially had planned to offer flowers at the accident site, but has decided not to after considering feelings of the relatives of the victims, whose deaths have not been confirmed.
Mori was scheduled to lay a wreath at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific to pay homage to American veterans before leaving Honolulu at 1:30 p.m. to return to Tokyo.
During his visit with President George W. Bush in Washington, D.C., yesterday, Mori asked U.S. officials to clarify the cause of the accident and to continue efforts to salvage the ship. Bush expressed his regret about the accident that left nine missing after the USS Greeneville struck the vessel on Feb. 9.