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Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Submarine inquiry
should clear the air

Bullet The issue: The Navy is convening a court of inquiry to examine the sinking of a Japanese fishing vessel by the submarine Greeneville.

Bullet Our view: The inquiry should provide factual information that will be welcome after the speculation and misinformation of the last week.

THE opening of a naval court of inquiry at Pearl Harbor should provide much-needed factual relief from the near-hysterical finger-pointing and speculation that followed the sinking of the Japanese fishing vessel Ehime Maru by the submarine Greeneville off Oahu.

That unfortunate accident has become an international issue between the United States and Japan although the U.S. government has made considerable efforts to satisfy Japanese demands for apologies and for a full determination of the facts.

In view of the grief of the relatives of the nine missing -- and almost certainly dead -- students, teachers and crewmen from the fishing vessel, it was inevitable that this period would be painful. However, some developments probably made it more painful than necessary.

The fact that the crew of the Greeneville did not attempt to bring survivors of the sinking aboard the submarine was erroneously interpreted as callousness.

The explanation that seas were too high to open the submarine's hatches and that the shape of the deck of the sub makes such operations dangerous did not succeed in fully dispelling what was clearly a false and highly damaging impression.

In fact, the submarine crew apparently did everything it could under adverse conditions to assist the survivors, who were quickly picked up by the Coast Guard in craft designed for rescue operations.

The disclosures that civilian guests were aboard the submarine and two were at the controls when the Greeneville made its disastrous ascent to the surface have been interpreted as indications of irresponsibility, even negligence, that may have contributed to the sinking.

The civilians may have distracted a sailor who was plotting sonar contacts but it was not clear whether this could have been a factor.

Civilians have routinely been invited as guests on Navy ships for decades and sometimes have been allowed to place their hands on ships' controls -- but always under close supervision.

The picture of the submarine making its ascent under the control of an unauthorized, untrained civilian is almost certainly wrong, but it has been widely disseminated and caused much pain and misunderstanding.

No civilian will be allowed near the controls of a submarine after this disaster, but the reason probably is the Navy's need to seem responsive to criticism, not a conclusion about the real cause of the accident.

That cause obviously has to do with the Greeneville crew's failure to detect the fishing craft before the submarine made its ascent to the surface. As yet there is no clear indication what that cause was. Sightings were made through the periscope, but somehow failed to find the Ehime Maru.

THE reason for that failure is what the inquiry must determine. If negligence is indicated, courts martial may follow.

The pressure from Japan, a major ally, makes it a matter of considerable urgency to determine the cause of the sinking and, if warranted, to prosecute those responsible.

Because of that pressure, there is a danger that the Navy will be tempted to find a scapegoat. That must not happen. Justice and a determination to get the facts -- not international politics -- must be the highest priority.

Papayas on Kauai

Bullet The issue: Papaya-growing on Kauai has declined dramatically.

Bullet Our view: The state should assist growers in coming up with solutions.

PAPAYAS have been an important part of the state's efforts to diversify Hawaii agriculture. Fruit fly infestation is a major impediment to export of papayas, but processes to deal with the insects have been developed, including steam, dry heat and irradiation.

However, the industry has recently gone into a steep decline on Kauai, raising questions about its future on the Garden Island. This is a setback for diversified agriculture and should spur attempts by the state to find solutions.

A $2 million papaya disinfestation plant, opened by the U.S. Commerce Department three years ago, has been taken over by the state Agriculture Department because the lessee, Bill Jessup, a Kauai farmer, has been unable to pay the rent.

The amount of papayas treated at the plant dropped to 30,000 pounds last month from 150,000 pounds a year ago. Jessup says he has not been paid for 75 percent of the fruit he has processed for local growers because their farms have been shut down. He says only two farms are still using the facility.

The disinfestation plant was turned over to the University of Hawaii, which leased it to Jessup. Now the UH regents have voted to rent the plant to the Agricultural Development Corp., an arm of the state Department of Agriculture, which will try to find a new operator.

The Star-Bulletin's Anthony Sommer reports that Kauai's papaya growers face a combination of problems.

They cultivate the Sunrise variety, which has red fruit. Most mainland consumers prefer papayas with yellow fruit and Brazil has flooded the market for Sunrise papayas.

The Big Island's papaya industry, which is larger than Kauai's, has rallied after being nearly wiped out by ring spot virus affecting the Solo papaya. The UH developed a variety of papaya that is immune to the virus.

Moreover, Big Island papayas are now treated with irradiation, a method that is preferred by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to heat treatment.

Kauai growers need to find ways to overcome their competitive disadvantages if they are to continue cultivating papayas.

It may be that they should switch to other fruits rather than continue to compete unsuccessfully with Big Island and foreign growers, but such a decision should not be made without thorough study of their options.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

Frank Bridgewater, Acting Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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