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.
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.
The seldom-used type of panel is responsible for gathering facts, but not assigning blame. However, the results of the hearings could result in a series of recommendations for court martials for the USS Greenville's officers.
The Court of Inquiry will be composed of three Navy flag officers, and a flag officer of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force will also be asked to serve as an advisor.
The three people who will be the subjects of the inquiry include the submarine's commander, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald K. Pfeifer, and 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.
A variety of theories as to why the submarine did not see the fishing boat has surfaced today, including the fact 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 were seen among the wreckage, although they have been presumed dead by Navy officials.
It took Scorpio II about eight hours before finding the sunken boat. The boat was identified by reading the stern plate through video cameras through video cameras installed in the remote-controlled robot. The Navy has not revealed the condition of the ship's remains, and it continues to gather more information on the ship.
Sources told ABCNEWS that the Pentagon report may fail to answer how high the periscope was raised, a critical issue for determining the range of vision the captain and his watch officer would have had. However, the report said the officers did not wait an excessively long time after scanning the surface before bringing the submarine to the surface.
Officials: Unlikely That Civilians Played a Role