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
Fargo released the names of the 16 civilians aboard the Greenville at today's press conference. The visitors included two from Kansas, two from Massachusetts, eight from Texas, two from Hawaii and two from Colorado.
Two of the 16 were at control positions when it surfaced under the Ehime Maru.
Though investigators found the civilian visitors on the submarine did not create any major distractions, they said it was clear the sub would not have carried out the "emergency blow," a rapid rise to the surface, if the guests had not been aboard.
Even before the Pentagon report, officials said they do not believe the 16 civilian guests on the submarine played a direct role in the incident, though they have not ruled out the possibility.
"Clearly, in hindsight, we could have done a much better job of making that information known not only to you all, but to the NTSB," said Pietropaoli. "I think people were assuming that the Navy would be the right ones to make that available, and we didn't do a good job of getting that out sooner."
The report also finds that officers of the submarine did search for survivors of the Japanese boat once the collision occurred, but choppy ocean conditions may have prevented them from seeing any.
Investigators have been looking into why Waddle failed to spot the Japanese trawler either through the periscope or by using sonar just before descending deep and then performing the emergency blow. In addition, President Bush ordered a review of all policies concerning civilian activity during military exercises. Officials say Waddle could face criminal charges.
The NTSB has been conducting its own investigation into the crash because it involved a civilian vessel. NTSB spokesman John Hammerschmidt confirmed that a civilian was allowed to flip the Greeneville's ballast activation levers, which shoots the water out of its ballast tanks helping to raise the vessel quickly to the surface during the emergency maneuver.
The Navy announced Friday that submarines would not be allowed to carry out the emergency surfacing maneuver with civilians on board until the investigation is completed. However, non-military visitors will still be allowed on submarines, Navy officials said.
Anti-American Resentment Growing
Japanese resentment over the crash continues to swell.
"It is outrageous. [The U.S. Navy] is slack," Defense Agency chief Toshitsugu Saito said at a news conference.
Relations between the U.S. armed forces and the Japanese government were troubled even before this accident at sea. Okinawans have been bitter about their island's use as a home base for the bulk of the U.S. military presence in Japan — approximately 26,000 of the 48,000 U.S. troops are stationed in the entire country.
To exacerbate the issue, Marine Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston, the senior U.S. commander on Okinawa, recently called his hosts "nuts and wimps" in an internal e-mail message. Hailston later apologized.
As a result of those problems, including several documented assaults on local woman by American servicemen, the local government of the island adopted a resolution calling for a revision of an agreement on U.S. military forces to enable local police to detain criminal suspects more easily.
In that resolution, Okinawans asked for the military to hand over a Marine suspected in a series of arson attacks last month. Okinawa police have prepared an arrest warrant for 23-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Kurt Billie on suspicion of setting fire to several restaurants.
It is possible that Bush's first opportunity for a personal apology over the accident could come as early as next month when Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori comes to the United States in early March to meet Bush, according to one Japanese newspaper.
ABCNEWS' Neal Karlinsky contributed to this report.