Sub commander testifies on collision
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) – By turns apologetic and defensive, the skipper of a submarine that sank a Japanese trawler took the stand Tuesday, blaming errors by himself and his crew for the accident.
”These mistakes were honest and well-intentioned,” said Cmdr. Scott Waddle, who testified as the Navy court of inquiry neared an end.
Waddle’s sworn testimony was a surprise because his attorney had indicated he would not testify without immunity, which the Navy rejected.
Waddle said he asked for immunity ”in the event the international and political environment dictated that I be sacrificed to an unwarranted court-martial.” While criticizing the Navy’s decision, he said he decided it was imperative he speak.
”This court and the families need to hear from me,” he said, turning to face some of the victims’ relatives. The wives of two of those killed brushed away tears as Waddle spoke.
Outside the hearing, Ryosuke Terata, whose son was among those killed, said the families welcomed Waddle’s testimony as ”keeping his promise that he made to us when he apologized.”
Waddle’s boat, the USS Greeneville, smashed into the Japanese fishing vessel Ehime Maru while demonstrating a rapid-surfacing drill for 16 civilians. Nine people, including four teen-age boys, were killed.
Waddle said he was ”truly sorry for the loss of life and the incalculable grief.”
”As commanding officer, I am solely responsible for this truly tragic accident, and for the rest of my life I will live with the horrible consequences of my decisions and actions that resulted in the loss of the Ehime Maru,” he said.
But he also told the three admirals presiding over the court, ”I was trying my best to do the job that I was assigned” and appeared to shift some of the blame to his crew for failing to provide sufficient backup.
The inquiry has focused on whether Waddle rushed preparations for surfacing, and whether he performed an inadequate periscope search before taking the Greeneville up.
Waddle disputed earlier testimony that he ran an informal – if not lax – ship.
”I was not informal,” he insisted.
One by one he addressed criticisms directed at him and his command over the past two weeks – why was the boat running late, why did they perform the dangerous maneuver of rapid surfacing, why didn’t Waddle and his officers have a clearer picture of what was going on.
Waddle said he had no reason to doubt his crew.
”I didn’t micromanage my crew. I empowered them to do their job,” he said.
Under questioning from Rear Adm. David Stone, Waddle said that much of what happened on Feb. 9 fell short of his own command standards and that he was unaware of the problems until the inquiry.
For example, Waddle said he didn’t know that nine of 13 watch stations were not manned by the originally designated crewmen and that one sonar station was watched by a trainee rather than a qualified crew member. Waddle said he assumes those crewmen took it upon themselves to swap stations and relieve their colleagues.
”That, to me, does not meet this standard of yours,” Stone said, referring to Waddle’s command credo of ”safety, efficiency and backup.” Stone said it indicated a ”loose organization.”
”It was not effective planning. I don’t refute that,” Waddle admitted, noting that commanding officers often rely on their subordinates to ensure scheduling is done properly.
”It’s obvious that the plan was not efficient, because the plan didn’t work,” he said.
Waddle said he was surprised to learn trainees had been working alone in the sonar room for the two years he commanded Greeneville and that it took ”a horrible, tragic accident” to raise the issue.
”Well, captain, it was your boat,” interjected Vice Adm. John Nathman, the inquiry’s presiding officer.
Later, Nathman questioned whether Waddle, who took the submarine on a series of sharp, tight turns for the VIP guests was ”just giving them the E-ticket ride at Disneyland on a submarine.”
Under investigation are Waddle; his executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer; and the officer of the deck, Lt. j.g. Michael Coen. All three could face courts-martial. Before Waddle testified, a Navy lawyer listed the crimes he is suspected of committing: dereliction of duty, improper hazarding of a vessel and negligent homicide.
After Waddle’s testimony, closing arguments were expected.
Once the inquiry concludes, the panel will produce a report of its findings and recommend whether the officers should be punished. The report goes to Adm. Thomas Fargo, head of the
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After a period of dry, warm weather, winter returns this week to Lake Tahoe.