Investigation of sub accident stalled

Kyodo

The investigation into the Feb. 9 collision between the USS Greeneville and the Ehime Maru stalled Tuesday, as the U.S. Navy’s Court of Inquiry postponed a hearing and submarine officers refused to give testimony to the U.S. National Transport Safety Board.

The U.S. Pacific Fleet said the navy has rescheduled the hearing from Thursday to 8 a.m. Monday to “grant the parties involved in the proceedings additional time to prepare.”

The Court of Inquiry, the navy’s highest administrative investigation body, on Monday will summon the Greeneville’s captain at the time, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer and officer on deck Lt. Michael Coen.

The NTSB official said the three officers have refused to give testimony to the federal transportation accident investigation body on key points of the accident because a navy investigation is in progress.

Twenty-six people were rescued but nine others — four 17-year-old students, two teachers at the school and three Ehime Maru crew members — have not been found. The Japanese ship was from Uwajima Fisheries High School.

A Pentagon official said Tuesday in Washington that the navy plans to release interim findings from its investigation into the incident at the outset of the Court of Inquiry hearing.

The findings will outline what happened from the time the sub prepared for what the navy calls an “emergency blow” surfacing maneuver to its hitting and sinking of the Ehime Maru, said the official, who requested anonymity.

The classified portion of the investigation will remain secret, the official said.

Earlier in the day, Pentagon spokesman Craig Quigley told a news briefing that no television cameras will be allowed in the courtroom. The navy will instead follow federal court procedures and provide audio and video feeds to reporters in a separate room.

On the ongoing feasibility study of salvaging the sunken ship, Quigley said it will take several more days for remote-operated vehicles Deep Drone and Super Scorpio to complete a detailed survey of the sea floor in the immediate vicinity of the Ehime Maru.

“When they have that survey data in hand, I think you’ll then see the government go out and solicit proposals from world-class salvage corporations around the world as to how they might accomplish this,” he said.

Frederick Smith, deputy assistant secretary of defense, told a Japanese lawmaker in Washington on Tuesday that it would take four to six months to salvage the ship, even if the feasibility study indicates it is possible.

The lawmaker, Eisei Ito, head of a Democratic Party of Japan fact-finding mission, said Tuesday at a press conference in Washington that the United States is considering sending a special envoy to Japan to explain the circumstances surrounding the collision.

Thomas Hubbard, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, earlier in the day acknowledged the possibility that a special envoy could be dispatched to Japan to explain the incident, according to Ito.

The vessel is now lying on the seabed some 600 meters below the surface off Oahu.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Wednesday that the government will dispatch a Maritime Self-Defense Force senior officer to Hawaii so that he can attend the court of inquiry on Monday.

Vice Adm. Isamu Ozawa, chief of staff at the MSDF’s Maizuru Administration Department, will attend the court as a consultant, Fukuda told a news conference. Ozawa will not be given the right to cast a vote during the court proceedings.

The top government spokesman added that he hopes the court of inquiry will take place in the most “intelligible and transparent” manner.

As for a request made by the families of the missing to meet with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, Fukuda said that Mori will see them this afternoon at his Official Residence.

A group of six Japanese experts also left for Hawaii on Wednesday evening to study the feasibility of salvaging the sunken training vessel.

The salvage mission, led by a Foreign Ministry official and joined by maritime and salvage experts, will discuss the issue with their U.S. counterparts.

Among the experts is Haruo Kawakami, an official from Fukada Salvage and Marine Works Co., which salvaged a research vessel from a depth of 230 meters off Fukushima Prefecture in 1988.

“We do not yet know if it would be technically possible,” said Yutaka Koyanagi, spokesman for the Yokohama-based firm.

Koyanagi added that his firm has never brought up a vessel from a depth greater than that in the 1988 effort partly because of the costly nature of deep-sea salvage operations.