Sub captain's actions not negligent, admiral testifies

Lawyers raise question of possible charges

March 09, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HONOLULU - After chronicling a series of errors contributing to the collision between the submarine Greeneville and a Japanese trawler, an investigating admiral said yesterday that he did not believe the submarine's captain, Cmdr. Scott D. Waddle, had acted with criminal negligence.

As he ended a fourth day before the Navy's court of inquiry at the Pearl Harbor Naval Station, the investigator, Rear Adm. Charles H. Griffiths, acknowledged that he had uncovered no evidence that Waddle had intentionally ignored warnings of a collision or otherwise acted negligently.

It was the first time that the question of which charges Waddle and two other officers could face, if any, had been raised during the court's investigation into the collision on Feb. 9, which sank the Japanese vessel, the Ehime Maru, and left nine people lost at sea.

Cross-examining the admiral, Waddle's civilian lawyer, Charles W. Gittins, repeatedly suggested that his client had acted within accepted Navy standards at all times and done nothing to warrant criminal prosecution.

"Did you find any evidence that Commander Waddle acted criminally, negligently in the operation of his vessel?" Gittins asked.

Griffiths replied, "In my opinion, he was not criminally negligent."

The court of inquiry is an investigation, not a trial, but its three presiding admirals will ultimately decide whether to recommend that Waddle or two other officers aboard the Greeneville should be disciplined for their roles in the sinking of the Ehime Maru.

As the officers' lawyers cross-examined Griffiths on Wednesday and again yesterday, it was clear that their strategy was to identify circumstances that would explain why the officers were not aware that a fishing trawler was nearby when the Greeneville surfaced abruptly in a maneuver called an emergency main ballast blow.

In one of the inquiry's most dramatic moments, a lawyer for Lt.j.g. Michael J. Coen, the officer of the deck at the time of the collision, cited records showing that a technician had calculated that a sonar contact previously thought to be far out of range was in fact only 4,000 yards away. Even so, he failed to notify Waddle or Coen.

The technician, identified in testimony yesterday as Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick T. Seacrest, had previously calculated the contact to be three times farther away, according to the records read by Coen's lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Brent Filbert. Seacrest adjusted that calculation just six minutes before the collision.

When asked whether that information could have changed the course of events in the minutes before the collision, Griffiths replied, "Most emphatically, yes."

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