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To Our Readers

BY JOHN FLANAGAN

Sunday, April 22, 2001


The unlucky but
avoidable sinking of
the Ehime Maru

CMDR. SCOTT WADDLE'S naval career is finished, over, kaput. From the testimony of people who knew him, we accept that it was a promising one. Fate clearly dealt him a bad hand.

To hit a ship the size of the Ehime Maru with a submarine the size of the USS Greeneville in a space as large as the Pacific Ocean seems as improbable as Gene Sarazen's double eagle to win the 1935 Masters -- a 220-yard four wood from a bad lie. It's almost like flipping a coin 50 times and having it always come up heads, or being hit by a piece of the Mir space station.

This was one of those things that people describe saying: "You couldn't do it again in a million years, even if you tried."

Yes, it shouldn't have happened, but yes, there were systems in place that would, could and should have prevented it.

Unlike getting whacked by a piece of space debris, what happened to Waddle wasn't technically an accident. Collisions at sea happen; there were procedures in place to prevent this one. The probability was low, but it wasn't zero.

It's hard to believe that what happened to Waddle's sub could ever happen again. However, given the number of vessels at sea and the traffic in and out of Oahu harbors, collisions are predictable and preventable events, not accidents.

That's why motorists wear seat belts, sane motorcyclists wear helmets and why we insist that children wear lifejackets when they're out on a boat.

I feel sorry for Waddle. At worse, he was a bit distracted and just went through the motions when he checked the horizon before ordering the Greeneville to surface. A more fortunate man might never have checked at all and still missed the Japanese ship.

They say we make our own luck. Out-of-order equipment, crew members left ashore, a crowd of civilian visitors, all set the scene for the unlikely but, ultimately, avoidable disaster.

Just as James Brady became a symbol of the need for gun control, Scott Waddle should become the poster child for safety at sea. Both are severely and permanently damaged. Both were incredibly unlucky.

The tragic difference: Waddle might have done otherwise.





John Flanagan is editor and publisher of the Star-Bulletin.
To reach him call 529-4748, fax to 529-4750, send
e-mail to publisher@starbulletin.com or write to
500 Ala Moana Blvd., Suite 7-500, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813.



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