HONOLULU – The U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry investigating the sinking of the Ehime Maru on Friday granted testimonial immunity to a key witness whose comments may determine whether the USS Greenville’s former captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, receives immunity.
Petty Officer 1st class Patrick Seacrest, the sub’s fire control officer, will testify at the hearing Monday morning, the court said.
Seacrest was fire control technician of the watch on the day of the collision and was a key conduit of information to the officer of the deck, who is the captain’s closest adviser.
Testimonial immunity would mean that his testimony could not be used against him in a court-martial.
Waddle, who has sought testimonial immunity along with the sub’s officer of the deck at the time of the accident, has reportedly told navy investigators he had issued standing orders to be notified of any sonar contact with a vessel within 9,140 meters.
But he has said the fire control technician withheld crucial information that sonar readings indicated the Ehime Maru was 3,660 meters away and closing to 1,830 meters.
Seacrest has reportedly told investigators that the presence of civilians on the sub that day impeded his line of sight and disrupted communication.
As a key witness to the events that occurred Feb. 9, the navy’s highest court requested that Seacrest be granted testimonial immunity even though he had not asked for it.
Officials say that decisions on testimonial immunity for Waddle and the officer of the deck have been deferred pending Seacrest’s testimony.
If enough information is forthcoming, the court will determine whether or not their testimony is “essential to determination of the facts of this case.”
At the court of inquiry Friday, the sonar supervisor aboard the Greeneville said the accident might have been averted had more time been spent on obtaining accurate sonar information.
“I don’t think we had enough time,” Petty Officer Edward McGiboney, the chief watchstander in the Greeneville’s sonar room on the day, told the court on its 10th day of proceedings.
He added, however, that at the time of the accident he felt he had enough time to adequately conduct two “legs” of target motion analysis and get accurate sonar readings on the bearings of surface contacts that included the Ehime Maru.
“I felt like we were doing what we needed to do,” he testified.
The sonar operator said that when the Greeneville collided with the Ehime Maru, “It didn’t make sense that there was something there that we could have hit.
“I thought we had hit something that was sitting still in the water because none of the information that I had correlated to anything that should have been close,” he said.
McGiboney said the sub had been monitoring two contacts, including the Ehime Maru, which had been dubbed Sierra-13, before performing a series of high-speed dives and turns called “angles and dangles.”
“I felt they were both distant contacts,” he said, adding that the bearing rate for the Ehime Maru was low and did not change appreciably from the time it was picked up to when the sub started its maneuvers.
After completing the high-speed maneuvers, the sub slowed to give the sonar operators time to stabilize their “spaghetti”-like displays and get a fresh reading of the surface contact picture before the sub proceeded to periscope depth.
It conducted two TMA legs, whereby the sub stays on a constant course and at a constant speed and depth for an ideal three minutes, and then turns and does the same on another course.
McGiboney said the fresh readings on the Ehime Maru suggested its bearing rate had not changed much.
“I felt it (the Ehime Maru) was distant,” McGiboney said. “If we had just a little more time there, I think we would have been able to really see that bearing rate.”
Testimony has shown the Greeneville’s first leg was substantially less than three minutes, though McGiboney said he thought at the time that it was sufficient.
A navy sub expert said the sonar operators could not tell the Ehime Maru was closing in because the ship did not cross the sub’s line of sight.
After the abbreviated contact analysis, the Greeneville went shallow for a periscope search in which the captain and the officer of the deck both failed to spot the Ehime Maru at a distance of less than 3,658 meters.
The court of inquiry, which began proceedings March 5, has so far heard expert testimony from witnesses that the tragedy could have been avoided if the sub’s officers had conducted a more thorough visual scan of the ocean surface for vessels or hazards before surfacing.
They have said the periscope search was too brief, not conducted at a shallow enough depth and not based on sufficient analysis of sonar readings that could have been obtained if more time had been spent on TMA before going to periscope depth.
McGiboney and other sonar operators have testified that they were tracking three vessels by the time the sub went deep again in preparation for the “emergency blow” maneuver, which was aimed at demonstrating to 16 civilian VIPs how quickly a sub can rise to the surface in an emergency.
Since all three seemed distant, they assumed the sub had hit an undetected stationary ship. “There’s numerous things we could have done, but that’s looking back,” McGiboney said.
Four students, two teachers and three crewmen were lost at sea after the 6,080-ton Greeneville collided with the 499-ton Ehime Maru some 18 km off Oahu.
HONOLULU (Kyodo) The former captain of the U.S. Navy submarine that collided with and sank a Japanese fisheries training ship last month on Friday made a second direct apology to relatives of some of the nine Japanese who remain missing after the accident.
Cmdr. Scott Waddle made his latest apology to relatives including Mitsunori Nomoto, 53, father of missing 17-year-old Katsuya, a student of Uwajima Fisheries High School, and Naoko Nakata, 36, wife of Jun Nakata, a 33-year-old teacher at the high school. He then bowed deeply before them as tears streamed down his cheeks.
During the meeting, Waddle, 41, told the relatives he will suggest the U.S. Navy reconsider its policy of giving tours for civilian guests aboard submarines in order to prevent a recurrence of the Feb. 9 accident, according to one of the relatives. Nakata also handed a letter to Waddle that said: “I am unable to recover myself from the disaster and unable to accept your apology. . . . My husband, who was to share the joy and sorrow of life with me, is gone forever.”
The letter asks Waddle to tell the truth, explain why the accident happened to the navy’s ongoing court of inquiry and help prevent a similar tragedy from recurring.
The group of relatives arrived in Honolulu on Friday morning and have been attending the court proceedings.
The inquiry is looking into possible negligence by Waddle, the Greeneville’s executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer and the officer of the deck at the time of the accident, Lt. j.g. Michael Coen. Waddle was relieved of his command after the accident.
On March 8, Waddle directly apologized for the first time to relatives of some of the missing, extending his “sincere apology” for the loss of life. He apologized Monday to the ship’s captain, Hisao Onishi, 58.