The U.S. Navy plans to launch an in-depth investigation into the fatal crash of the U.S. Navy submarine and a Japanese fishing boat near Hawaii, and Japanese government officials say they want the fishing boat's captain to be present at the inquiry.
The Navy will establish a court of inquiry, made up of three admirals, that will have the power to subpoena naval personnel and the civilians who were aboard the USS Greeneville Feb. 9, when it hit and sank the Japanese fishing boat Ehime Maru, leaving nine Japanese missing and presumed dead.
The seldom-used type of panel is responsible for gathering facts, rather than assigning blame. However, the results of the hearings could result in a series of recommendations for court-martials of the USS Greeneville's officers.
The court of inquiry will be composed of three Navy flag officers. In addition, a flag officer of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force will also be asked to serve as an adviser.
Japanese officials said today they will talk to the United States about sending Hisao Onishi, the captain of the Ehime Maru, to take part in the court of inquiry, as well. Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori told Senior Vice Foreign Minister Seishiro Eto to negotiate with Washington so that Onishi would be allowed to attend the Navy's highest form of administrative investigation.
The three subjects of the inquiry will be the submarine's commander, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, its executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald K. Pfeifer, and its officer of the deck, Lt. J.G. Michael J. Coen, said Adm. Thomas Fargo at a news conference. The court of inquiry is expected to be convened this Thursday at Pearl Harbor, and the sessions will be open to the public.
Waddle was relieved of duty following the accident.
"The court of inquiry will provide a full and open accounting for the American and Japanese people," Fargo said.
Investigators are trying to figure out why the submarine did not see the fishing boat as it surfaced in a military exercise on Feb. 9, and speculate that the Ehime Maru may have been traveling directly toward the Greeneville, thus making it more difficult to see through the periscope. However, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board say the Greeneville was aware of sea traffic in the area, and was tracking several ships just before the accident.
"You almost have to presume this was human error when the captain decided to surface even though there were ships in the area," said Jim Bush, a retired Navy captain and former commander of the ballistic missile sub USS Simon Bolivar.
On Friday night, a deep-sea robot located the wreckage of the 190-foot fishing boat 2,033 feet below the ocean surface, and approximately 1,000 feet from where the collision occurred. The boat, the Ehime Maru was sitting "almost upright," on the ocean floor, said Navy officials. Scorpio II, along with Deep Drone, both remotely operated submarines, are at the site as the search operation continues.
None of the nine missing people was seen among the wreckage, although they are presumed dead, Navy officials said.
It took Scorpio II about eight hours to find the sunken trawler. The boat was identified by reading the stern plate through video cameras through video cameras installed in the remote-controlled robot. The Navy continues to gather more information on the ship.