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Civilians Aboard Sub During Collision, Navy Says

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2001 – Navy officials confirm that civilian guests were in the control room of the USS Greeneville when the sub collided with and sank a Japanese fishing vessel Feb. 9 south of Hawaii.

The accident occurred while the Greeneville was practicing an "emergency main ballast blow," Navy officials said. Sub crews practice the surfacing maneuver, as its name implies, for emergencies, Navy Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told reporters during a Feb. 13 Pentagon press briefing.

Navy officials said 16 civilians were reportedly aboard the Greeneville at the time of the accident. They said Navy ships routinely take business and academic leaders and other civilians on orientation cruises to learn about what submarines do and how they support the nation's national defense. They did not comment further.

After the Greeneville was on the surface, the crew spotted survivors in liferafts and radioed for help right away, the Pentagon spokesman said. The Navy and Coast Guard began immediate rescue efforts for the crew and passengers of the sunken Japanese fishing vessel Ehime Maru. Twenty-six of the 35 people aboard were rescued. Nine are still listed as missing.

The submarine crew did not take part in rescuing survivors because of rough seas at the time, Quigley added. A sub in rough seas "is a lousy platform to recover people from the water or bring rafts alongside," he noted.

Had the sub pulled alongside the rafts, it would have increased the danger to the survivors, he said. The admiral pointed out the Greeneville's round, smooth, slick hull offers no traction or handhold to anyone trying to clamber aboard. Also, he said, rough seas could have slammed the survivors against the hull, injuring or killing them.

Quigley said the Scorpio II, a remotely operated submersible vehicle, arrived in Hawaii Feb. 13 to assist in surveying the ocean bottom for the Ehime Maru. Scorpio is operated by a team of about two dozen sailors of the Navy Deep Submergence Unit at Coronado, Calif.

Also deploying is a second remotely operated submersible, the "Deep Drone," which can reach depths of up to 7,200 feet.

Raising a large ship from 1,800 feet depends on the condition of the vessel and of the sea. Quigley told reporters that survivors said their ship sank very quickly, but they did not know how badly the hull was damaged.

Rear Adm. Al Konetzni Jr., commander of Submarine Forces Pacific, has reassigned Greeneville skipper Cmdr. Scott Waddle to his staff pending the results of an investigation surrounding the collision.

The USS Greeneville is a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It suffered only slight damage to the port side in the accident.

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