A top U.S. naval officer has issued a formal apology to the government and people of Japan for the Ehime Maru tragedy.
“I sincerely and humbly request — on behalf of the United States government, the United States Navy and the American people — that the government and people of Japan accept our apology for the tragic loss of the Ehime Maru on Feb. 9,” said Adm. William J. Fallon, vice chief of naval operations.
Fallon, the Navy's no. 2 officer in Washington, was sent to Japan as a special envoy to deal with the fallout of the tragedy.
Two civilians were manning key control positions on board the USS Greeneville, a nuclear submarine, as it surfaced rapidly during a drill, striking and sinking the Japanese fishing boat. Of the 35 people aboard the Japanese trawler, 26 people were rescued, but nine people are still missing and presumed dead.
Among the missing are four schoolboys.
Fallon delivered a personal letter from President Bush to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori "expressing our nation’s apologies and regret to the Japanese people." He will also brief the premier on the status of the investigation into the accident.
He is expected to meet Thursday with families of the missing.
“I know my words cannot express the profound sorrow and regret that the American people feel over this tragic event,” he said after landing at Yokota Air Base, outside of Tokyo. “By coming from Washington to be here in person, I seek not only to apologize, but also to promote better understanding between the people of our two nations.”
'Most Sincere Regret'
On Sunday, the former commander of the Greeneville expressed his "most sincere regret" over the incident.
Cmdr. Scott Waddle's statement was sent by his lawyer to Japan's public television network, NHK, where it was read and broadcast nationwide in Japan.
It came as the Japanese public continued to demand a personal apology from Waddle, and amid reports that the Navy's investigation is widening to include additional Naval personnel.
"It is with a heavy heart that I express my most sincere regret" for the accident, Waddle said. "I know that the accident has caused unimaginable grief to the families of the Ehime Maru's missing students, instructors and crew members … and to all of the Japanese people."
However, the younger brother of Yusuke Terata, 17, one of the nine Japanese still missing, told The Associated Press that his family is far from satisfied.
"We refuse to accept it as an apology," said Shunsuke Terata, 15. "It's not an apology until he says it to each one of us in person."
In addition to Cmdr. Scott Waddle and two of his top officers, sources say Capt. Bob Brandhuber, who was in charge of the civilians on the submarine, and the submarine's fire control technician may also be added to the investigation.
Brandhuber, who is not a crew member, was the highest ranking officer on the boat. He ranks above Cmdr. Waddle, and the other two officers named in the inquiry, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer and Lt. Michael Coen.
His role in the accident is key because he was the host of the 16 civilians aboard the USS Greeneville when it sank. It was his job to make sure the civilians did not interfere with the crewmen.
The "fire control technician" told investigators civilians distracted him from doing his job plotting sonar contacts.