U.S. admiral apologizes over sub accident

A special envoy from Washington arrived in Japan on Tuesday afternoon to convey apologies from the United States to Japan over the Feb. 9 sinking of a Japanese high school fisheries training ship off Hawaii, which left nine Japanese missing and presumed dead.

Adm. William Fallon, vice chief of naval operations in the U.S. Navy, arrived at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo aboard a military aircraft.

“I sincerely and humbly request — on behalf of the United States government, the United States Navy and the American people — that the government and people of Japan accept our apology for the tragic loss of the Ehime Maru,” Fallon, 56, said in a statement released upon his arrival.

“I know my words cannot express the profound sorrow and regret that the American people feel over this tragic event,” the statement said.

Fallon was to deliver a letter from President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori later in the day.

Fallon stopped in Hawaii on his way to Japan to meet with Adm. Dennis Blair, head of the U.S. Pacific Command.

He was expected to update Mori on the ongoing investigation into the collision between the U.S. submarine Greeneville and the Ehime Maru, including the status of the pending U.S. Navy’s Court of Inquiry into the accident. The court will hold its first hearing Monday.

The envoy is also expected to meet the families of the missing and executives from Japan’s three ruling coalition parties today before departing from Yokota Air Base on Thursday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda told a news conference.

Foreign Minister Yohei Kono told reporters Tuesday morning in Tokyo that Japan’s main demand is that the U.S. salvage the Ehime Maru, but explained that the Japanese side will listen to what Fallon has to say in his capacity as special envoy from Washington.

The foreign minister emphasized that the envoy is not the person with whom the Japanese government will hold negotiations with over the incident.

According to ministry sources, the envoy is also likely to reply to the family members about 31 demands they submitted earlier to the U.S. Navy.

Fallon holds the No. 2 position in the U.S. Navy. He commanded an air unit on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt during the Gulf War in 1991.

The 499-ton Ehime Maru, a training ship from Uwajima Fisheries High School in Ehime Prefecture, sank off the island of Oahu minutes after being hit by the Greeneville, a 6,080-ton nuclear-powered attack submarine that was executing a rapid-surfacing maneuver.

Twenty-six people — nine high school students and 17 crew members — were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. But nine others — four 17-year-old boys, two teachers and three crew members — are missing and presumed dead.

Salvaging decision

MATSUYAMA, Ehime Pref. (Kyodo) The United States will decide by around March 8 whether it is technically feasible to salvage the Japanese fisheries training ship that sank off Hawaii after being struck by a U.S. submarine, Ehime Gov. Moriyuki Kato said Tuesday.

Kato told reporters he was informed of the plan in a letter from Adm. Dennis Blair, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, sent to him through the Japanese Consul in Honolulu.

In the letter, which Kato received Tuesday morning, Blair apologized for the Feb. 9 accident and said the U.S. will continue taking every possible measure to find the nine Japanese aboard the Ehime Maru who are missing and are presumed dead, he said.

The letter was sent in response to one Kato handed to Blair upon his visit to Hawaii last week. Kato demanded in the letter that the U.S. raise the sunken ship as quickly as possible and provide findings on the cause of the accident to the relatives of those involved.

In his response, Blair guaranteed the U.S. Navy would thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and said he had informed Cmdr. Scott Waddle, the captain of the submarine, of the feelings of the relatives of the missing nine.

The families have demanded that Waddle, who was relieved of duty after the accident, directly apologize to them.

Kato said he appreciates the letter as it provides more hope than previous responses from the U.S. that the ship will be raised.

“The letter made me feel that the U.S. will salvage (the Ehime Maru), and it contained forward-looking responses,” he said.

“I can feel the good faith of Adm. Blair because he told former Cmdr. Waddle that (the families and relatives of the nine missing people) request he apologize (for the accident),” the governor said.