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Monday, March 12, 2001

USS Greeneville

Admiral says sub
was right in not
helping survivors

The Pacific submarine commander
says search and rescue operations
should not be changed

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Bullet Admiral: Sub right not helping
Bullet Missing teacher: Students first

Rear Adm. Albert Konetzi, the Pacific's top submariner, said today he was upset when he heard the Ehime Maru's captain complain that the USS Greeneville did nothing to help survivors after the submarine sank the Japanese fisheries training ship.

"I understand the emotion of the master (of the Ehime Maru)," Konetzi told three U.S. admirals sitting on a rare Navy court of inquiry looking into the collision, "but I was upset because things were done very well."

Konetzi disagreed with a Navy investigator who recommended that the court of inquiry look at better equipping submarines for search and rescue operations.

"Submarines are made for war. Anything you do to upgrade search and rescue would take from other values. I would not spend any time and effort to improve their search and rescue capabilities," he said.

"It would be politically correct but it would not help anybody."

Konetzi said the Greeneville did what it was supposed to do in any search and rescue operations. "Get in touch with people as soon as possible," said Konetzi when asked how the attack sub responded to the collision.

Instead of amending the way subs react to search and rescue operations or better equipping them, Konetzi said money would be better spent in upgrading their periscopes.

As Pacific Submarine Forces commander, Konetzi oversees the operations of 26 attack nuclear submarines -- 19 at Pearl Harbor -- and eight Trident missile submarines.

His transfer to deputy commander of the Atlantic Fleet has been held up because of the court of inquiry.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer arrives at the court
of inquiry today at Pearl Harbor.

Meanwhile, the Japan Times today reported that the U.S. Navy has decided to go ahead with plans to raise the Ehime Maru, which now rests on the bottom of the ocean in 2,003 feet of water.

The Navy here had no immediate comment, except to say an announcement was expected sometime today.

Part of this morning's session was closed because classified information was discussed.

Besides Konetzi, Hisao Onishi, captain of the Japanese fishing training vessel Ehime Maru, is scheduled to testify this week. Other witnesses scheduled include Capt. Fred Byus, who also helped with the initial investigation and conducted interviews with key personnel aboard the submarine USS Greeneville right after the collision.

One question the Navy court has not explored yet is whether its distinguished visitors program, which allows civilians to ride along on submarines, should be permanently scaled back or scrapped because of the crash.

These issues could be brought into better focus when Capt. Robert Brandhuber, the senior Navy officer who brought the civilians on board the Greeneville, may be called to testify. Brandhuber is Konetzni's chief of staff. Both are said to be strong supporters of the Navy's distinguished-visitors program. Brandhuber also was visiting with his son-in-law, who was finishing up a tour on the Greeneville as its engineering officer.

The Pacific Fleet had 21 sea tours for 307 civilians last year on subs like the Greeneville. The average number of guests was about 15. Last year, the Greeneville sponsored three civilian-at-sea tours, and two in 1999.

Investigators and the panel of U.S. admirals also are puzzled over why on that day on the Greeneville, described repeatedly as having one of the best captains and crews in the Pacific submarine fleet, the system broke down.

"It's obvious we have an engaged, aggressive and knowledgeable captain that the crew stands behind," Vice Adm. John B. Nathman, the president of the board, said during last week's session.

After a week of testimony, Navy investigators maintain the Greeneville set out of Pearl Harbor on Feb. 9 at about 8 a.m. for a six-hour cruise to show off its capabilities to 16 civilian guests, including a couple from Honolulu.

By early afternoon it was 43 minutes behind schedule. Part of the reason was because the civilians had to be fed in two separate shifts since the Greeneville's mess deck was too small to accommodate all of them at once. The Greeneville's skipper -- Cmdr. Scott Waddle -- also took extra time with the two seatings to talk to the 16 civilians.

Waddle ordered the sub to be taken to periscope depth in five minutes just before 1:32 p.m. instead of the prescribed 10 minutes. By 1:38 p.m. the Greeneville was at periscope depth of 60 feet, and Lt. j.g. Michael Coen, the officer of the deck, and Waddle made three sweeps of the horizon by periscope. Again, rather than taking three minutes -- the standard time it takes to make an adequate search -- the Greeneville was at periscope depth for just 80 seconds.

By 1:40 p.m., after not seeing any surface contacts, the sub dropped to 400 feet. Two minutes later, the order was given for the emergency main ballast blow. Shooting to the surface, the Greeneville smashed into the Ehime Maru, its rudder slicing through the hull at 1:43 p.m. Of its crew of 35, nine are still missing -- four 17-year-old students, two teachers and three crewmen.

All last week, relatives of the four missing Ehime Maru crew sat in the courtroom's first two rows, listening to the translation through special earpieces. Ryosuke Terata, whose 17-year-old son, Yasuke, is among the missing, took notes with a bright yellow pencil.

Kazuo Nakata at times used binoculars to examine charts or drawings that were propped on a wall about 25 feet away. His, son, a 33-year-old schoolteacher, also is listed as missing and presumed dead. They carry a framed portrait of their sun, Jun, with them to court daily.

After Waddle issued a long-sought apology, Terata said: "I think we can move on, but I still don't know if I can forgive him for the accident."

Rear Adm. Charles Griffiths, the lead investigative officer, said a broken sonar monitor in the control room, an incomplete staff in sonar, command climate and the presence of the 16 civilians were factors contributing to the accident. The rush to get the civilians back to port by 3 p.m. also compounded the problem.

Fire control technician Patrick Seacrest, who recorded the Ehime Maru at 1:31 p.m. at a range of 14,000 yards from the Greeneville, failed to warn Waddle and Coen of the sonar contact. "This is one thing that could have changed history," Adm. Griffiths testified.

Charles Gittins, Waddle's attorney, wants to shift the blame to others, like Seacrest, saying he had a duty to alert the officers.

He wants Waddle to testify to the events of Feb. 9, but only if he is granted testimonial immunity so his statements could not be used against him. That request is still pending before Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Fleet commander.

Eventually, it will be Fargo who determines whether Waddle or anyone else must face a court-martial for negligence. Griffiths, the investigative officer, has said that he does not believe Waddle is criminally negligent.

The Navy's court of inquiry is not a trial proceeding. It is a fact-finding investigation that can lead to a range of disciplinary recommendations.

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