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EHIME MARU DISASTER /10 YEARS AFTER, TRAGEDY REVERBERATES


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Man responsible bears guilt

By William Cole

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 01:48 a.m. HST, Feb 07, 2011


Ten years ago Wednesday, the USS Greeneville was impressing 16 civilian guests south of Oahu with some of the capabilities of a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine.

On the surface, there was open-air time with the Greeneville's gregarious, cigar-smoking captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, as the sub powered through the waves.

Underwater there were steep ascents and descents -- "angles and dangles" in Navy jargon, at one point reaching a classified depth below 800 feet -- as well as high-speed turns.

And finally, there was the demonstration of an emergency main ballast tank blow, an action that forces 4,500 pounds per square inch of air into ballast tanks, causing the 6,900-ton submarine to breach the surface like a humpback whale.

On Feb. 9, 2001, the Greeneville, longer than a football field, rocketed upward from a depth of 400 feet, its crew not knowing it was on a collision course with a Japanese high school fishing training vessel, the Ehime Maru.

What came at 1:43 p.m. was unthinkable: The submarine hit the Japanese ship. The Greeneville's steel rudder -- reinforced to punch through Arctic ice -- cut through the underbelly of the 190-foot Ehime Maru.

The Japanese vessel sank in five minutes nine miles south of Diamond Head. Twenty-six on board survived, but nine others -- including four high school students -- perished.

Never in U.S. Navy history had a collision between a nuclear submarine and a civilian vessel killed so many people.

"I'm fully aware there's a lot of pain and anguish, and I know from my perspective I'll never be able to get forgiveness from the Japanese families for the losses they suffered," Waddle said last week by phone from his home in Cary, N.C.

Memorial set for Wednesday

Waddle was not tried at court-martial, but he was found guilty at an "admiral's mast" of dereliction of duty and negligent hazarding of a vessel. He was allowed to retire with full benefits after 20 years in the Navy.

He was accused of cutting corners, marginalizing key crew members and rushing through procedures leading up to the sinking.

On Wednesday the Ehime Maru Memorial Association will hold a service from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at Kakaako Waterfront Park, where there is a memorial to the loss.

Seven of the nine families who lost a family member are expected to attend, along with Ehime prefecture Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura, Uwajima City Mayor Hirohisa Ishibashi, Uwajima Fisheries High School Principal Kanji Nogami and other officials, the memorial association said.

Waddle apologized to the families at least four times -- once in Japan in late 2002 to relatives of 17-year-old Yusuke Terata, whose body was the final recovery made by the Navy.

Waddle still lives with the details that caused so much pain, relating how Terata's roommate, Takeshi Mizuguchi, also 17, was never found.

"Yusuke clung onto the foremast crying out to Takeshi Mizuguchi and also to Jun Nakata, his instructor, and he (Nakata) wasn't about to leave either one of them, and all three perished," Waddle said.

The sinking was a public relations disaster for Waddle, the Navy and the United States. The events of that day commanded international news for months to come and led to permanent changes in how the U.S. submarine force trains.

President George W. Bush apologized on national television as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori immediately requested that the sunken vessel be raised. The families of the dead bitterly criticized Waddle for his actions.

The Navy spent $60 million to recover the Ehime Maru and eight of nine missing crew, $11.47 million for compensation to Ehime prefecture, $16.5 million to compensate families and $2 million to repair the Greeneville.

Waddle, the man at the center of it all, is now a somewhat overweight and graying 51-year-old involved in consulting, executive coaching and public speaking.

A listing with the Premiere Speakers Bureau says Waddle's fee is $7,500 to $10,000 and that his speech topic is "Failure is not final."

In a book he wrote after the incident titled "The Right Thing," Waddle, then 41, recalled watching helplessly and in horror through the periscope as the stern of the Ehime Maru listed, the bow came out of the water, the ship stood vertical for a moment and then it disappeared beneath the waves.

As some crew members clambered into life rafts and others flailed wildly in the water, diesel fuel burning their eyes, Waddle said, he tried to maneuver the Greeneville closer, but the bobbing sub created huge swells that threatened to swamp the rafts.

The 6- to 8-foot swells made it too dangerous to dive off or climb aboard the sub, he said, and the Greeneville had to leave rescue efforts to the Coast Guard.

The Greeneville was kept out all night partly as a public relations ploy intended to give the impression the sub was involved in search-and-rescue efforts, but in truth the seas were too rough to get anyone on or off that night, Waddle said.

Word of the Ehime Maru sinking spread quickly -- a news helicopter was on the scene shortly after the collision -- and Waddle said a large Japanese fishing vessel almost identical to the Ehime Maru cut in front of the Greeneville as it headed in the next day. News reporters were camped out on his lawn.

Waddle said in his book that he was fired Feb. 10 as captain of the Greeneville, and he saw "20 years of hard work" in the Navy slip away.

His own personal hell grew deeper and darker that night, when he could not sleep and was reviewing the accident over and over in his head. He said he briefly considered using a ceremonial Russian officer's dagger to kill his 13-year-old daughter, Ashley; his wife, Jill; and himself.

"It would be so easy to take that dagger, I thought, and go upstairs and put Ashley down and then take care of Jill, and then myself," Waddle wrote. "Then our family wouldn't have to endure any more of this ugliness and pain."

Failures precede fatal collision

Before the sinking, Waddle was riding high.

A religious Texan who graduated from the Naval Academy in 1981, Waddle took command of the Greeneville in 1999. In November of that year, the sub became the epitome of U.S.-Japanese cooperation when it took part in a rescue exercise southwest of Molokai with the Japanese submarine Hayashio.

The Greeneville was the go-to submarine for special missions, and its list of visitors included Tipper Gore and movie producer James Cameron.

According to testimony from the Court of Inquiry convened after the collision, Waddle was a charismatic and professional naval officer who was "self-confident in his own abilities and quick to take advantage of opportunities to make his command, the Navy, and himself look good."

Greeneville's sole mission on Feb. 9 was to conduct the "distinguished visitor" trip for the 16 civilians -- referred to by retired Navy Adm. Richard Macke as "high-rolling CEOs" -- despite guidelines that submarines conduct the outings only during training.

Some of those visitors' hands were on submarine controls during maneuvers, with crew member's hands over theirs.

The Court of Inquiry found Waddle "inappropriately disposed" to entertaining the guests, while there was an "artificial urgency" created by the commander to complete the afternoon's events with the sub running late for a 2 p.m. return to "Papa Hotel," a rendezvous southeast of the entrance to Pearl Harbor.

Two key failures preceded the collision.

The sub's fire control system had shown the Ehime Maru, designated as sonar contact Sierra 13, as being 8.5 miles away.

But high-speed turns could make sonar displays look like "spaghetti," with ship contacts fading in and out, according to testimony.

As the Greeneville ascended for a periscope look prior to the "emergency deep" and ballast blow, Fire Control Technician of the Watch Patrick Seacrest entered an updated location for Sierra 13 showing a range of 2.2 miles on an approaching course.

But Seacrest told the Court of Inquiry he felt rushed and did not note the change in range.

A periscope search of at least three minutes is required on the surface.

As soon as the officer of the deck started a visual sweep, Waddle interrupted him and took over the periscope, the Navy said.

A white haze was present and Waddle saw nothing, stating, "I hold no visual contacts in high power," but the submarine was at periscope depth for only 66 seconds before he ordered "emergency deep," records state.

Seacrest testified that he then noted Sierra 13 closing on the Greeneville, but since he had heard Waddle and the officer of the deck state no visual contacts, he assumed the range information was incorrect, and he "out-spotted" Sierra 13's range to five miles.

By the time the Greeneville had descended to 400 feet for the emergency blow, the Ehime Maru was less than a half-mile away.

Had Waddle conducted a longer periscope search as required, he would have seen the Ehime Maru, the Court of Inquiry found.

Waddle has alternately reserved for himself and shared the blame for the sinking, saying in his 2002 book, "Nine people are dead because of me," but also stating that the Court of Inquiry had decided he would be a "sacrificial lamb."

Speaking in October at Suffield Academy, a prestigious New England boarding school, Waddle said, "It's tough to live with. It's tough to know that I was part of an event that took the lives of loved ones. Somebody's family somewhere was adversely impacted because of our crew's negligence, the team that I led."

He still questions why Seacrest did not speak up about the Ehime Maru's closing distance.

Seacrest and a handful of other crew members received admonishments.

As the 10th anniversary of the Ehime Maru sinking approaches, Capt. Jeff Breslau, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement, "We are still saddened over the loss of life from the collision between our submarine and Ehime Maru, and use this anniversary to pause and reflect on our responsibilities that have resulted from this tragedy. The Navy worked hard to meet our obligation to act in the interests of the victims' families, to pursue the facts behind the accident earnestly, and to ensure the lessons from the collision are used to prevent tragedies of this nature from happening again."

The Navy said there have been improvements in the procedures used to prepare for periscope depth and surfacing operations and improvements to sensors used.

The command qualification process has become more rigorous, including a graded demonstration of the ability to safely conduct periscope depth and surfacing operations, officials said.

Submarines are required to practice the "emergency main ballast blows" at least once a year, and the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force has "re-emphasized" with commanders the need for a thorough search of the surfacing area.

Accident changes policy, training

Since the Ehime Maru accident, Defense Department policy has been changed to prohibit civilian visitors from operating any equipment when that operation could cause an increased safety risk, and visitors are not permitted to sit at the controls or operate equipment with the exception of one periscope -- but only while the other periscope is manned by a qualified officer of the deck.

At the Submarine Learning Center in Groton, Conn., meanwhile, students in the officer advanced course complete a case study of the Greeneville incident that includes a detailed account of the collision and the events that led up to it as well as the Greeneville's actions following the event.

Internal U.S. State Department memos showed that while many Japanese were unhappy that Waddle and other officers were not brought to court-martial, the difficult task of raising the Ehime Maru from a depth of 2,000 feet was appreciated.

The $60 million recovery involved the use of remotely operated vehicles to place lifting plates so the Ehime Maru could be moved to 115 feet of water about a mile off Honolulu Airport for diver access.

The ship later was later sunk at a "final resting site" 12 miles south of Barbers Point in more than 6,000 feet of water.

While unusual, the collision was not unprecedented.

On April 9, 1981, the Pearl Harbor-based submarine USS George Washington surfaced under a Japanese freighter, the Nissho Maru, in the East China Sea. Thirteen Japanese crewmen were rescued but two were lost at sea.






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