Memorial Honors Sub Collision Dead
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HONOLULU (AP) _ A year after a U.S. submarine sank a Japanese fishing boat, killing nine men and boys, many relatives of victims are frustrated that the submarine’s captain hasn’t gone to Japan to apologize.
But in the eyes of one Japanese-American community leader, the dedication of a memorial on the anniversary of the accident Saturday offers an opportunity to reaffirm the enduring strength of U.S.-Japanese relations.
``Hopefully, this unveiling of the memorial will be another step in the healing process,″ said Earl Okawa, president of the Japan-America Society of Hawaii.
Nine of the 35 students, teachers and crew from the Uwajima Fisheries High School in Japan died aboard the Ehime Maru when the USS Greeneville surfaced beneath the trawler, sinking it in 2,000 feet of water about nine miles south of Oahu.
Since the collision on Feb. 9, 2001, an unprecedented recovery effort by the U.S. Navy, working with Japanese divers, has done much to stem bitterness that resulted from the collision.
All but one body was recovered in the salvage operation, which involved lifting the 830-ton vessel off the ocean floor and towing it 16 miles to shallower waters where divers could safely inspect the wreckage.
The recovery cost the Navy about $60 million.
``The Navy went through tremendous efforts to make the recovery and I think everybody appreciated that,″ said Okawa, whose organization is coordinating Saturday’s memorial service with officials from the Ehime prefecture in Japan.
But for some family members, any appreciation for the Navy’s recovery effort is tempered by frustration.
``They certainly appreciated the efforts to raise the ship, but I think many of them have mixed feelings,″ said Toshio Miyatake, a lawyer representing some of the victims’ families that have filed claims seeking compensation from the U.S. government.
The Greeneville’s former skipper, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, was reprimanded by a military court of inquiry, which decided against a court-martial. He was allowed to retire at full rank and pension, raising criticism in Japan that the punishment was too light.
Waddle has issued letters of apology to family members, but they said they would not accept an apology unless it was delivered personally.
Charles W. Gittins, the lawyer who represented Waddle in the military inquiry, has advised his client against traveling to Japan for the apology, saying he fears Japanese authorities might try to arrest him.
The Greeneville itself, meanwhile, has been involved in two other mishaps at sea since the Ehime Maru collision.
The submarine ran aground in August trying to enter the Saipan seaport in the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. possession 3,700 miles southwest of Hawaii. Late last month it collided with an amphibious transport ship off the coast of Oman.
As a result of the Ehime Maru collision, the Navy has modified a community relations program that had put visiting civilian VIPs at the ship’s controls when it surfaced into the Japanese ship.
The Navy’s Distinguished Visitor program allows civilians to participate aboard military vehicles to gain a better understanding of what armed forces personnel experience.
Navy officials acknowledged that the surfacing demonstration was done only for the benefit of civilians aboard, three of whom were seated at the sub’s controls at the time.
Civilians would no longer be allowed at the controls under a moratorium implemented by the Navy after the accident, said Lt. Cmdr. Kelly Merrell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Force.
The Navy continues to defend the program.
``Public knowledge of the efficiency, effectiveness and capabilities of the Submarine Force results in a better understanding of the Navy’s mission and our contribution to our national defense and way of life,″ Merrell said.
On the Net:
U.S. Pacific Fleet: http://www.cpf.navy.mil
Pacific Fleet Submarine Force: http://www.csp.navy.mil
Ehime Maru Recovery page: http://www.cpf.navy.mil/ehimemarurecovery.html