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Breaking News

U.S. Navy Submarine Collides With Japanese Fishing Vessel; 10 Still Missing

Aired February 9, 2001 - 10:02 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with breaking news from the coast of Hawaii tonight, where the U.S. Navy says a U.S. submarine has accidentally surfaced and sunk a Japanese fishing vessel. We are told life rafts are in the water and a rescue operation is now under way.

Our military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre now by telephone outside Washington, who is tracking this along with us.

Jamie, we talked 50 minutes ago. What have we learned now?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears that at least 25 people have been picked up from this fishing vessel, which we are told is apparently was some kind of a vocational vessel, that is, it was teaching some Japanese high school students how to fish.

It had a crew of 20 and had about 13 high school students and two teachers, 35 people altogether. And it appears that 25 have been rescued by U.S. Coast Guard craft -- 10 apparently still missing in this collision. What happened, apparently, was the U.S. attack submarine, the USS Greenville was on routine operations. It's based had at Pearl Harbor there in Hawaii.

It surfaced. Apparently, the bow -- the stern of the submarine -- that fin you saw at the back of the picture there -- apparently hit this Japanese fishing vessel. And it very quickly sunk after that. Obviously, there are serious questions about why the submarine was not aware of the location of the fishing vessel. The Navy says there will be a complete investigation. But right now, their emphasis is on trying to search for the missing.

It happened at 1:45 p.m. in the afternoon, Hawaii time, at just about 10 miles south of Diamondhead, near Honolulu, Hawaii. The White House says that President Bush was notified just before 9:00 Eastern Time of the accident. The State Department will -- is contacting the Japanese government through diplomatic channels to convey information and regret about the accident.

But, again, at this point, no explanation for how this could have happened. The U.S. submarine surfaced, apparently hit this Japanese fishing vessel and sunk it very quickly -- 10 people still missing.

HEMMER: All right, Jamie -- Jamie McIntyre outside Washington. Let's go to Japan now: our Tokyo bureau chief Marina Kamimura by telephone -- Marina, what more can you add from your perspective there overseas?

MARINA KAMIMURA, CNN TOKYO BUREAU CHIEF: Hi, Bill.

Well, we have no official reaction from the government so -- the Japanese Coast Guard even getting its information from its U.S. counterparts. But according to Japanese television, the Japanese ship was a training boat -- as Jamie had said -- for a Fisheries vocational institute: the Uwajima High School from Ehime Prefecture in Southern Japan.

Those reports say that, of 35 people on board, there were 13 students, two teachers, the rest being crew members. And, just as Jamie had said, 25 people have been rescued, according to their sources, while the whereabouts of 10 people are still unknown. We do know that the ship called the Ehime Maru left Japan on the 10th of January to teach the students how to finish tuna. The fish itself -- the ship itself being about 58 meters long or 170 feet was due back here in Japan on February 23.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said to me earlier that it's still waiting to get information in hand from its officials on the ground in Hawaii, as well as its embassy in Washington -- the ministry saying that the Japanese Coast Guard alerted them to the situation approximately 2 1/2 hours ago now -- Bill.

HEMMER: Marina, you mentioned there were high school students. Knowing it's Japanese schooling, what ages are we talking about here?

KAMIMURA: We are talking second year in high school. So basically, the students, you can imagine -- if we can imagine, are around 15 or 16 years old. As I said, there were 13 of those students and two teachers on this boat that belonged to this Fisheries vocational institute, a high school in Southern Japan -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Marina -- Marina Kamimura by telephone there in Tokyo.

Back here in Atlanta now, Alec Fraser is a retired Navy captain. He also works at here Turner Broadcasting.

Alec, good evening to you. Tell us, based on your Naval experience, what happens when a submarine wants to surface in open waters?

ALEC FRASER, RETIRED U.S. NAVY CAPTAIN: United States Navy submarines probably surface dozens of times a day without any incident around the world. The general procedure is that they do an acoustical search of the area around the submarine. They alter course to search acoustically behind the submarine, in the baffles, behind where the screws were making a wake.

And then they come up to periscope depth and do a visual search. Those are the general procedures before they surface. Whether it was an emergency surfacing or not, we do not know at the time. An emergency surfacing, they may bypass some of those procedures in order to get a submarine to the surface as quickly as possible.

HEMMER: Alec, why is it that the system, this acoustic system you're talking about, would fail?

FRASER: An acoustical system needs to find sound in the water. If a boat is stopped, if the engines are not on, if the generators for that particular boat are not functioning at the time, then there are no sound waves in the water for the submarine to detect. So if this fishing boat was in fact dead in the water, if it had no sound- generating mechanisms going at the time, then the submarine wouldn't have heard it.

As to why it wouldn't have been seen by a periscope search, I'm not real sure.

HEMMER: All right, Alec Fraser, stand by with us tonight.

Meanwhile, we do know the weather was a bit tough and rough over Hawaii earlier today. Whether or not this had anything to do with it is uncertain. But Chad Myers is watching things up in the Weather Department.

Chad, what do you have?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Bill, a little choppy there: winds out of the east -- the trades, as they call them -- 20-30 miles- per-hour. This is a satellite of Hawaii. You can just barely see the islands under here. Now let me zoom in, kind of give you an idea of what was going on: winds out of the east at 20-30 miles-per-hour, showers and thunderstorms, and a small craft advisory in effect.

We have seas there at about four to five feet -- not too big. We also have ceilings in clouds here at 3,000 feet. That's a good ceiling height for the aircraft and the helicopters that will be flying over looking for the search-and-rescue. If the ceilings were much lower, the helicopters would have to fly lower, have a smaller view -- but with 3,000 feet, doing pretty good -- really, the problem the winds tonight -- also the waves and, of course, the small craft advisory -- more coming up a little bit later.

HEMMER: All right, Chad, thank you.

Earlier, Jamie McIntyre mentioned the White House. Let's go there now and pick things up with Major Garrett with more information on what's happening off the coast of Hawaii -- Major, good evening to you.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Bill.

I can confirm, through a senior White House official who has informed CNN, that, yes, 35 people were on that Japanese commercial fishing vessel. And 10 are missing. And there's a search-and-rescue operation going on now. Some of the president's top military advisers are sifting through all relevant information in the Situation Room here at the White House.

The president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, informed Mr. Bush of this accident shortly before 9 p.m. Eastern Time. The president is spending the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland. And, as Jamie pointed out, he has instructed the State Department to contact the Japanese government informing it of all relevant information and also at least expressing early regrets -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Major -- Major Garrett from the White House thanks. Major, thanks. Keep us posted from your perspective there in Washington.

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