With the Pentagon's report on the collision between a U.S. Navy submarine and Japanese fishing boat imminent, the Navy today announced that visiting civilian passengers would be barred from operating equipment until the investigation into the mishap is completed.
Civilians onboard the USS Greeneville were at two control positions Feb. 9 when the nuclear submarine surfaced while practicing an emergency procedure and accidentally collided with Ehime Maru, a fishing boat carrying Japanese students. The Ehime Maru sank, and nine of the 26 people aboard are still missing and presumed dead. The search is still on for possible survivors, although officials admit there is little hope of finding any of the missing alive.
The Navy announced today 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.
As officials made their announcement, ABCNEWS learned that a preliminary Pentagon report on the collision is expected to show there were no mechanical problems on board the sub, and that officers did take 360-degree looks with the periscope before the vessel surfaced.
The Pentagon report, sources told ABCNEWS, leaves open the question of 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 says the officers did not wait an excessively long time after scanning the surface before bringing the submarine to the surface.
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.
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 the commander of the USS Greeneville, Scott Waddle, apparently 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.
Waddle has been reassigned pending the results of the investigation.
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.