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Collision at Sea: New Report Faults Crew of U.S. Submarine

Aired February 23, 2001 - 2:36 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: CNN has learned of a new development in the nuclear submarine investigation.

Here's Jeanne Meserve in Washington.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Lou, Jamie McIntyre has learned some of the details of an internal Navy report on the collision between that U.S. submarine and the Japanese fishing vessel.

Let's go to him at the Pentagon -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeanne, this is a preliminary Navy report that was never intended to be released. It formed the basis of the decision of the Navy to call a formal court of inquiry to look into what happened in that February 9 collision between the USS Greeneville and the Japanese fishing boat that cost nine lives.

Sources familiar with the investigation say that the report faults the crew of the submarine and also concludes that the presence of civilians on board was a factor in the accident, perhaps not the cause of the accident, but a factor, despite the Navy's earlier contention that there was no evidence the civilians played in role.

According to one source with access to the report, it found that the Greeneville's skipper, Commander Scott Waddle, was aware that there was a ship in the area of his submarine just before conducting what is called an emergency-surfacing drill. But he concluded it was a safe distance away after a visual search with the sub's periscope failed to detect it. And it also found that he not been told that, according to one calculation, the ship could be as close as two miles away.

The Navy report also concluded that the presence of 16 civilians in the submarine's cramped control room hampered communications, may have been a factor. In particular, Navy investigators are focusing on the performance of what is called the fire control technician, a member of the sonar monitoring team whose job it is to track the locations of ships on the surface.

According to sources with access to this report, it found that this sailor, who was plotting the location, at one point determined that this Japanese ship was just two miles away. And while the skipper was actually doing his periscope search, he recalculated its position as only a mile away. But the theory is that because at the time that he was doing that calculation the skipper was looking into the direction and pronouncing that the surface was clear, he decided that his calculations must have been in error and recalculated and decided the ship was about 9,000 yards away -- or nearly 5 miles away.

Still, that would violate a standing order that the submarine's skipper had to be notified of any contacts within five miles. The skipper has told investigators that he was not aware that the calculation put the ship that clear, and he might have conducted things differently had he known. But he decided, based on his visual search, that the way was clear. The submarine surfaced, came back up and hit the Japanese fishing boat.

All of this will become part of the investigation as the court of inquiry begins on this investigation. The formal inquiry begins next month -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: So more than one individual on the crew apparently bearing some responsibility, Jamie.

MCINTYRE: Well, right now, they're named as parties to the investigation -- that means they face possible court-martial down the road -- are the skipper, the executive officer and the officer of the deck. Those are all officers.

But it's possible that this sonar fire control technician, who is an enlisted man -- he has already told the NTSB that he didn't do part of his job, he said, because too many civilians were in the submarine -- he could also face possible charges of wrongdoing, although, at this point, he has not been named a party to the suit and has not been given legal representation. But that is something that could happen before the court of inquiry convenes on March 5.

MESERVE: Jamie, thanks so much -- Jamie McIntyre joining us from the Pentagon.

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