USN: Two Civilians At Control Stations On Sub

Wednesday, February 14, 2001
Two civilians were at control stations on the USS Greeneville as the submarine shot to the surface and struck a Japanese fishing vessel, a U.S. Navy spokesman in Honolulu said on Tuesday. Commander Bruce Cole said the two were allowed to participate at the control positions and were among 16 civilians invited aboard the U.S. submarine for a brief training cruise last week.

Earlier a Pentagon official, who asked not to be identified, had said a civilian was under careful supervision at the time of the accident and that the move was not highly unusual and apparently had no influence on the collision. Separately, Rear Adm. Craig Quigley, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to identify the civilians from Hawaii who had been aboard the submarine, saying they had requested that their identities not be released.

Meanwhile, a Navy underwater robot vehicle arrived in Hawaii on Tuesday to examine the possibility of raising the Japanese ship that sunk after it was hit by the U.S. submarine in a major international incident, the Pentagon said. The U.S. "Super Scorpio," a 4,500-lb. (2,040 kg) device controlled from a surface ship and capable of diving 5,000 ft. (1,525 m), arrived to look for the Japanese fishing ship Ehime Maru, Quigley said. Nine people are missing from the Ehime Maru, which sank in about 1,800 ft. (548 m) of water nine miles (14 km) off Diamond Head, Hawaii, after a collision on Friday with the attack submarine. "We don't know," Quigley told reporters when asked whether the Navy would eventually be able to raise the ship at Japan's request. "It would depend on the condition of the vessel itself ... we don't know the extent of damage to the hull."

Although hope had dimmed for any survivors, Quigley stressed that a search by U.S. rescue aircraft, helicopters and ships was still under way for the missing Japanese.

President George W. Bush said he apologized to the Japanese for the accident in a telephone call to Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. "I apologized on behalf of our nation for the accident that took place and the lives that are missing," Bush told reporters aboard Air Force One while returning from a visit to Norfolk Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia. "He asked me to do everything I could, which we are doing, to locate the missing folks," he added. "I think we need to do what we need to do to get the bodies out of there, if they're there."

The Super Scorpio submergence unit, flown from San Diego, carries a sonar and video cameras capable of examining underwater objects. Quigley said a Klein side-looking sonar device was also being sent to Hawaii and a "deep drone," another remotely-operated vehicle designed to aid deep ocean recovery efforts, was standing by at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, ready to be flown to the scene. The deep drone can descend to a depth of 7,200 feet (2,194 meters). Quigley on Tuesday repeated denials by U.S. defense officials that the Greeneville had simply ignored the rescue operation after the Japanese ship was struck and quickly sank. He said the sub broadcast appeals for help but did not want to add danger for the passengers of the ship by getting too close.

"A submarine is a lousy platform to recover people from the water or bring rafts alongside," the spokesman said, noting that the round hull of the submarine is slick and that seas were running four to six feet. "The rafts or individuals (from the Japanese vessel) could have been slammed up on the hull and injured, or even killed," Quigley added. Anguished relatives of the missing have pleaded for two days to have the wreck raised so they would know if their loved ones had been trapped inside. The request -- also being pushed strongly by the Japanese government -- was forwarded to top U.S. government officials. – (Reuters)

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