Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Star-Bulletin Poll

Most agree with
Waddle’s punishment

A majority polled , however,
question the Navy's policy
on civilians in submarines

By Gregg K. Kakesako

A statewide poll shows that a majority believes the Navy was correct in not sending USS Greeneville skipper Cmdr. Scott Waddle to a court-martial for his role in the sinking of the Japanese fisheries training ship Ehime Maru Feb. 9.

However, the majority of the respondents, or 54 percent, do not believe that civilians should be allowed to ride on military ships, planes or vehicles.

Sixteen civilians were guests of the Navy under its distinguished visitors program when the Greeneville collided with and sank the Ehime Maru. A Navy investigation found that civilians did not cause the accident.

However, Waddle and other crewmen said the civilians may have been a distraction. Thirty-one percent of those polled said civilians should be allowed to participate in these trips, which the military believes are a vital part of its program to educate the public.

Capt. Kevin Wensing, spokesman for Navy Secretary Gordon England, said the Navy's distinguished visitors program is "an important program because it shows members of the media, elected officials and members of the public the military's mission and capabilities."

He added that answers to the Star-Bulletin/KITV-4 poll show that "the court of inquiry was open, full, fair and thorough in its investigation and appropriate action was taken."

More than half of the 539 people polled by telephone from May 5-10 by Market Trends Pacific said they disagreed that Waddle should have been court-martialed. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.22 percentage points.

The poll showed that 35 percent strongly disagreed that Waddle, 41, should have been court-martialed, with another 21 percent somewhat disagreeing.

Twenty-two percent strongly agreed that Waddle should have been court-martialed, while 14 percent somewhat agreed.

Adm. Thomas Fargo, Pacific Fleet commander, reprimanded Waddle based on the findings of a Navy court of inquiry in March which spent two-and-half weeks investigating the incident and took testimony from 33 people.

The court of inquiry turned over its 2,000-page findings of fact, opinions and recommendations to Fargo April 13. Waddle will be allowed to retire later this year and will receive an honorable discharge.

Charles Gittins, Waddle's civilian attorney, said "it appears that a majority of the public agree that Admiral Fargo made the right decision. Apparently, the Navy chose the right man for the job in Admiral Fargo."

Hilo resident Jessica Arruda, a daycare provider, said she believes it was wrong for the Navy to take civilians out to sea on a vessel that is supposed to be top-secret like a nuclear submarine.

"That should have never happened," she said.

On May 27, Waddle, a 1981 Annapolis graduate, will have served for 20 years and be eligible for an annual pension of $34,740.

On another issue, 80 percent of the respondents felt it was proper for the U.S. to apologize for the accident which resulted in the death of nine Japanese -- four high school students, two teachers and three crewmen.

Fifteen percent of the respondents believe the U.S. should have not apologized.

Arruda said she does believe the U.S. did the right thing by apologizing.

And she applauded Waddle for his personal apologies and his promise to follow up on visits with the victims' families in Japan.

Kihei resident Heidi Ihrig said the U.S. did the right thing diplomatically by apologizing and Waddle should have never been required to go before a Navy court-martial.

However, the self-employed audio-visual technician doesn't believe civilians should be allowed to ride all military planes and vessels.

"But some tours are good, since the public needs to know what they (military) are doing," she said.

The survivors and family members of the 35 people on the Ehime Maru have initiated compensation talks with the Navy. The Navy without congressional authorization is empowered to negotiate settlements up to $1 million.

However, some of the victims' families want to take the matter to court since they are still unhappy over the Navy's decision not to court-martial Waddle.

Relatives of two people missing since the sinking and those of six survivors have hired a team of lawyers to discuss compensation claims with U.S. authorities.

The Ehime prefectural government is also seeking compensation for the loss of the Ehime Maru, which it plans to replace.

The Navy is completing an environmental assessment on the possibility of raising the 190-foot fishing vessel this summer. The Ehime Maru now rests on the ocean bottom in 2,003 feet of water nine miles south of Diamond Head.

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