Greeneville's skipper reprimanded, allowed to retire
HONOLULU, Hawaii (CNN) -- The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet found the skipper of the submarine that rammed a Japanese fisheries ship guilty of "dereliction of performance of duties" and of "negligent hazarding" of a vessel.
"These actions will effectively terminate his career," said Adm. Thomas Fargo at a news conference on Monday after he held a disciplinary hearing called an admiral's mast for Cmdr. Scott Waddle.
Waddle was commanding the USS Greeneville when it rammed the fisheries research ship Ehime Maru off Hawaii while demonstrating an emergency surfacing drill for a group of civilian visitors. The Japanese ship sank in minutes, killing nine people, including four teen-aged students.
"While I regret that my Navy career has ended in this way, I know that I am one of the lucky ones because I survived the accident," Waddle said in a written statement. Waddle said Fargo "treated me fairly and with dignity and respect, and I thank him for that." (Waddle's statement)
During the hour-long hearing, Waddle, 41, expressed his regret to Fargo over the accident and informed the fleet commander he would submit his resignation by October 1.
'He has paid dearly'
The fleet commander explained he did not refer the case to a court martial because there was no "evidence of criminal intent or deliberate misconduct on Cmdr. Waddle's part."
Waddle could have been tried on criminal charges before a military court and been forced to forfeit his retirement benefits. With Fargo's decision, Waddle will be eligible to draw a pension from the Navy.
Fargo commended Waddle for taking full responsibility for his actions and said that before the incident, Waddle's record in service to his country had been "excellent."
As he has several times since the accident, Fargo expressed sympathy to the Japanese families who lost loved ones. He also underscored that the Ehime Maru was in no way at fault for the accident.
"To the families of the lost, I again offer my profound sorrow and regret for this tragedy," he said.
Fargo said that, while Waddle received an honorable discharge and will receive full benefits upon retirement, he was not getting off easy.
"Cmdr. Waddle has been stripped of his command and his career effectively terminated. For a Naval officer who served for 20 years his country, I would say this is absolutely devastating. He has paid dearly," said Fargo.
Other officers reprimanded
The admiral said he agreed with the unanimous findings of the court of inquiry, which pointed to two causes of the collision: Inadequate acoustic and visual search prior to surfacing and the failure of the ship's watch team to work together and communicate the surface contact information.
"The commanding officer of the USS Greeneville created an artificial sense of urgency in preparation for surfacing his ship, when prudent seamanship, the safety of his sub and good judgment dictated otherwise," he said.
Along with the career-ending letter of reprimand, Fargo also fined Waddle half his pay for two months, but suspended the fine.
The admiral's mast took place in a conference room at the Pacific Fleet headquarters at Pearl Harbor. Waddle was dressed in his Navy whites, accompanied by Rear Adm. Al Konetzni, the commander of sub forces in the Pacific Fleet, as well as a military lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Kimberlie Young. They sat at a conference table across from Fargo and two deputies.
Fargo gave lesser verbal reprimands to five other officers: Capt. Robert L. Brandhuber, the chief of staff of the Pacific submarine fleet, who was escorting the 16 VIP civilian guests on the Greeneville at the time of the accident; Lt j.g. Michael Coen, the submarine's officer of the deck; Lt. Cmdr. Gerald Pfeifer for failure of administrative oversight; Douglas Coffman, the master chief petty officer; and sonar supervisor Edward McGiboney.
Fargo said he forwarded those names to the commander of the Pacific Fleet sub force and it was up to that commander to administer punishment "as he deems appropriate."
Fargo also recommended Fire Control Technician 1st Class Patrick Seacrest, a sonar operator who failed to report a nearby ship, which turned out to be the Ehime Maru, face a separate "captain's mast" hearing.
In addition, Fargo recommended a review of procedures for approving civilian observers aboard ships, and recommended that civilians not be allowed at key watch stations during critical maneuvers.
Fargo said none of the civilians aboard the Greeneville played a direct role in the collision, although they "did prove to be a distraction."
Fargo announced that he has ordered a case study be made of the "accident and its lessons" and that every commanding officer and prospective commanding officer be briefed on it. He said that would be a standing requirement.
"It will serve to remind all that no matter how apparently routine the mission, there is nothing about going to sea that is forgiving," he said.
Waddle already has apologized and accepted responsibility for the crash. He said he plans to travel to Japan to meet with the families of the four students and five adults who were killed in the collision.
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