The U.S. Navy's official inquiry into the fatal collision of the USS Greeneville and a Japanese fishing trawler will closely scrutinize the actions of a fourth officer on board the submarine, who held senior rank over the vessel's captain. Capt. Bob Brandhuber, chief of staff for the Pacific Submarine Forces, was the host of civilian guests on board the sub when the accident occurred. He has not been named alongside three Greeneville officers as a subject of a court of inquiry, but will almost certainly be called as a witness, the sources told Reuters.
The court of inquiry was convened for March 5 to determine whether disciplinary action should be taken against any or all of the officers named as subjects, and could ultimately lead to a court martial. Under Navy rules, the presiding officers at a court of inquiry can name additional subjects or "parties" at any time during the proceedings. Brandhuber "will be scrutinized by the court because he was the senior officer on board and as the senior officer on board he has some responsibility," even though he was not in command on the sub, a Navy source said, especially if he directed the submarine's crew to allow civilians take the controls.
Brandhuber may face some tough questions because, according to reports in various newspapers, the Navy's preliminary report on the accident cites the presence of civilians as a factor in the Greeneville crew's failure to follow proper procedures once passive sonar detected the Ehime Maru. Brandhuber ranks above the Greeneville's captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, and the other two officers named in the inquiry, Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer and Lt. Michael Coen.
The Greeneville was practicing a fast-surfacing maneuver nine miles (14 kms) off Diamond Head on Oahu on Feb. 9 when it rammed the trawler
, sinking it and sending nine people to their deaths. Another 26 people on the fisheries teaching vessel, carrying students from a Japanese high school on a fisheries training project, were rescued.
The tragedy has strained U.S.-Japan ties. The Washington Times reported in a story for Saturday's editions that Rear Adm. Albert Konetzni, Jr., commander of the Pacific submarine force, asked that Brandhuber -- his chief of staff -- be scrutinized by the court.
The paper said Adm. Konetzni asked the court to determine whether Brandhuber should have intervened to correct crew errors. "While I do not believe Capt. Brandhuber should be named as a party, I must also recommend that the board address whether Capt. Brandhuber ... should have intervened to prevent the causal chain of this event," Adm. Konetzni wrote in a letter to the Pacific Fleet Commander, Adm. Thomas Fargo. - (Reuters)