Navy official says charges in sinking would hurt morale

April 04, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SAN DIEGO - The acting secretary of the Navy said yesterday that he believes it would hurt morale if Cmdr. Scott Waddle is court-martialed for the deadly collision between his submarine and a Japanese fishing trawler.

Robert B. Pirie Jr., a former submarine captain, said he will support Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the Pacific Fleet, if Fargo decides that a court-martial is required for Waddle or other crew members aboard the USS Greeneville.

But Pirie, speaking to reporters aboard the 3rd Fleet command ship USS Coronado, said he expects Fargo to consider such big-picture factors as morale before making his decision.

"The reason we have a guy like Fargo in charge is [that] he's able to put these things in perspective," Pirie said. "We can't simply divorce ourselves from the outside while we make a judgment. ... I'm entirely confident Fargo is going to bring all the factors together."

Fargo will make a decision on possible charges against the submarine's captain and crew after he receives recommendations from three admirals who heard 33 witnesses over a 12-day court of inquiry at the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

It is rare for Navy officers to be ordered to undergo a court-martial, which carries the possibility of imprisonment, for peacetime accidents, even those that result in loss of life.

Pirie said he feels some sympathy for Waddle, the sub's skipper, who appeared destined for promotion before the Feb. 9 collision in which nine Japanese were killed.

Testimony during the court of inquiry indicated that Waddle made a series of errors, including allowing unqualified personnel at sonar stations and making a cursory periscope check.

A sonar analyst, a senior enlisted sailor, also failed to notice that the trawler Ehime Maru was bearing straight toward the Greeneville.

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