President George W. Bush has ordered a review of all policy on civilian activity during military exercises after the sinking of a Japanese trawler in a collision with a U.S. submarine near Hawaii. Two civilians were at control positions when the USS Greeneville rose rapidly to the surface, hitting the Japanese vessel, but Navy officials have said they were closely supervised. "What's going to be necessary is for (Defense) Secretary (Donald) Rumsfeld and the Defense Department to review all policy regarding civilian activity during military exercises ... particularly in light of the recent tragedy in Hawaii," Bush told reporters at the start of a budget meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House.
Rumsfeld said there was no evidence the civilians had contributed to the accident near Hawaii on Feb. 9. Nine people, including four 17-year-old fisheries students, are missing and presumed dead.
"I want to reiterate what I said to the prime minister of Japan," Bush said. "I am deeply sorry that the accident took place, our nation is sorry that the accident happened. We will do everything we can to help recover the bodies."
All of the armed services, including the Navy, have a long tradition of inviting civilians on bases and to witness military maneuvers to bolster public appreciation and support. Navy Rear Adm. Steve Pietropaoli, the Navy's chief spokesman, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that the Navy for decades had invited civilians -- including reporters -- on ships, submarines and aircraft to show off its sailors and equipment to visitors.
"We are very proud of our efforts to bring Americans out to see their Navy, including many of the people in this room," he said. He confirmed that civilians were invited aboard the Greeneville at the request of retired Navy Adm. Richard Macke, former commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific. Macke was forced to take early retirement in 1995 after telling reporters that U.S. servicemen who had raped a Japanese schoolgirl on Okinawa earlier that year should have paid a prostitute instead.
"In this case, Admiral Macke did bring to the attention of the Submarine Force Pacific that a group of individuals from the Missouri Battleship Memorial Association were interested in getting out to see Navy submariners and our young sailors doing their job," said Pietropaoli. "If people on the outside in the civilian world bring to our attention groups of great Americans who want to see their Navy, we ... process the requests," he added.
The Navy's preliminary investigation into the sinking could be completed by the end of the week, the Pentagon said.
The captain of the Greeneville, Navy Cmdr. Scott Waddle, was relieved of duty after Friday's incident, which occurred as the submarine practiced a fast surfacing maneuver nine miles (14 kms) off Diamond Head.
The Ehime Maru quickly sank in about 1,800 feet of water and 26 of the 35 persons aboard were rescued. -- (Reuters)