U.S. Submarine Detected Boat

Wednesday, February 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HONOLULU – Seventy-one minutes before a U.S. submarine surfaced underneath a Japanese fishing boat, sonar crew on the USS Greeneville detected the Ehime Maru, which sank shortly after the collision, the Navy has told the National Transportation Safety Board.

NTSB member John Hammerschmidt said Tuesday that the board will conduct its own analysis of the Navy's data to confirm that the vessel was indeed detected and determine why the submarine's crew later believed the area was clear when the submarine conducted an emergency rapid-ascent maneuver.

Mr. Hammerschmidt also said the crew member responsible for tracking sonar contacts left his post within an hour of the collision because of the presence of 16 civilian guests in the submarine's control room.

The fire-control plotter is positioned in the control room and analyzes the submarine's speed, course, bearing and range of sonar contact.

But because of the 16 civilians in the control room, he had to stop doing that for a length of time that Mr. Hammerschmidt did not disclose.

Nine crewmen and high school students remain missing after the sinking of the Ehime Maru off Hawaii on Feb. 9. Twenty-six others were rescued.

Mr. Hammerschmidt indicated that the sonar systems in the submarine and the crew who operate them will play a key part as the NTSB tries to determine why the Ehime Maru wasn't detected before the sub began its rapid ascent.

"We are taking a very deliberate, very thorough, very comprehensive approach to this investigation," Mr. Hammerschmidt said.

He said the USS Greeneville gained passive sonar contact with a surface vessel at 12:32 p.m. Feb. 9 and designated the contact as Sierra 13. He said the Navy has reconstructed the path of the Ehime Maru and now knows that Sierra 13 was the Japanese ship.

Japanese leaders and families of the missing continued to press the United States to raise the Ehime Maru, which was found Friday by a deep-sea robot in 2,003 feet of water.

The actions of three top officers on the submarine will be the focus of a court of inquiry, the Navy's highest-level administrative investigation, scheduled to begin Thursday at Pearl Harbor.

Three admirals will oversee the public proceedings, which could lead to courts-martial and possible prison terms for Cmdr. Scott Waddle; executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Gerald K. Pfeifer; and officer of the deck Lt. j.g. Michael J. Coen.