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The Sinking of the Ehime Maru:
Was U.S. Sub Shadowing the Trawler?
by Jared Israel [3-5-2001]
It is now three weeks since the U.S. submarine Greeneville shot up 405 feet from the ocean depths and rammed a Japanese teaching trawler, the Ehime Maru. Nine people on the trawler were killed. Four were teenagers.
From the start the question was: how could the sub commander not know there was a ship nearby? Especially since this was a nuclear submarine. How could the commander not check thoroughly before performing a dangerous emergency procedure, a "rapid ascent"?
For two weeks the Navy stonewalled. Information emerged in dribs and drabs. We learned there were civilians on board, but the Navy said: so what?
"Adm. FARGO: These embarkations for civilian people are very routine, and they would not affect the procedures that we use to surface the submarine in any way, shape or form." (CBS EVENING NEWS, February 11, 2001)
Routine? One of the civilians went on TV and with cheerful idiocy revealed that he had actually been at the controls when the sub hit but:
"I mean, what's important to know here is you don't do anything on this vessel without someone either showing you how to do it, telling you how to do it, or escorting you around." (Washington Post, 2-15-2001)
The presence of a group of 16 oil executives and their wives on board was dismissed in the press as no big deal:
"The Navy routinely invites dignitaries aboard its vessels to bolster public support for its missions. In 1999 the Pacific Fleet's subs hosted 1,132 civilians on 45 trips."(Time, February 26, 2001)
There's that word "routine" again. The implications of routinely allowing 'dignitaries' (i.e., oil executives) to handle nuclear submarines during dangerous procedures for the sake of Public Relations were apparently lost on the mass media. As George Szamuely wrote:
"The idea is to show off our military wares to wealthy, ignorant but self-important civilians with a view to winning their support for even more lavish funding of the Pentagon. So dazzled are the visitors by all the high-tech gadgets on display, by the death-defying skills of our servicemen, and by the elaborate military maneuvers worthy of a Hollywood summer blockbuster that they become ardent lobbyists for the military." ("What if they sank an American ship" by George Szamuely.)
And the question remained, nagging: how could the commander of that submarine not check thoroughly before performing this "rapid ascent"? What was happening on that submarine?
Why didn't they see the ship? The answer came: they did.
"Sonar crew on the submarine USS Greeneville detected the Japanese fishing boat Ehime Maru 71 minutes before the submarine collided with the vessel while surfacing, the Navy has told the US National Transportation Safety Board." (London Times, 2-21-2001)
But if a sonar operator spotted the ship 71 minutes before the collision why didn't he spot it again just prior to the 'rapid ascent'?
"Board member John Hammerschmidt also said late yesterday that the crew member responsible for tracking sonar contacts stopped performing that task within an hour of the collision because of the presence of 16 civilian guests in the submarine's control room." (London Times, 2-21-2001)
Would the sonar operator of a nuclear-armed sub decide on his own that "because of the presence of 16 civilian guests in the submarine's control room" he was not going to continue "tracking sonar contacts" and stop "performing that task"? On a military vessel? And this is why the sub's commander didn't know there was a ship nearby?
Common sense suggests that a) A sonar operator who did this after spotting a ship would be court-marshaled for gross negligence and b) the sonar operator would surely go to jail if he failed to warn his commander that he had seen a ship and c) in any case, why didn't the commander thoroughly check before engaging in a dangerous "rapid ascent?"
Now comes a new revelation which indicates that the near-universal description of this as an accident was a cover-up. The following comes from the National Safety Board people investigating the "accident":
"The 190-foot fisheries training vessel was traveling in a south-southeast direction at 11 knots (about 12 1/2 m.p.h.), nearly parallel to the southbound course of the submerged 360-foot Greeneville.
"The much-faster submarine passed the Ehime Maru but reversed course to the north to prepare for an emergency surfacing drill. The drill was a demonstration for 16 civilian guests aboard, the Navy said.
"When the vessels were about two miles apart, the Greeneville made a series of zigzag turns, continuing in a north-northwest direction before ascending to an initial periscope depth five minutes before the impact. After 11/2 minutes at periscope depth, the Greeneville descended, going in the same direction as the Ehime Maru. It reached 405 feet in two minutes and turned northward.
"The Greeneville then shot to the surface in 50 seconds, coming up under the Ehime Maru, the NTSB data show. The submarine ripped the bottom out of the Ehime Maru, which sank within minutes." (Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/3/01)
What does this mean? Doesn't it mean that the Greeneville was shadowing the Ehime Maru and that the commander knew there was a trawler close by before ordering the "rapid ascent."
To believe otherwise one has to accept three things. First, that the sonar operator did not tell the captain he had seen a ship. Second, that the sonar was turned off, also without the captain being informed; this because there was too much of a crowd in the control room. And third, that the sub was shadowing the ship by "accident." I submit that this combinations of events is unbelievable.
The question is: why? What was going on on the submarine Greeneville?
There were 16 guests on board the Greeneville that day. These were VIPS oil company execs and their wives. The trip had been arranged by one Richard Macke, former Commander of the Pacific Fleet. Macke was forced to resign his post following public outcry over an amazing remark he made when three US troops rented a car and kidnapped and raped a 12 year old Okinawan girl:
"I think it was absolutely stupid," he told reporters. "I've said several times, for the price they paid to rent the car, they could have had a girl."
One assumes Commander Macke would not respond this way if a 12 year old child from his home town had been raped. The distinguishing feature in this instance was that the child was Okinawan, i.e., Asian. Because of this incident the Navy rightfully forced Macke into early retirement.
The VIPs he invited for a joy ride on the Greeneville were executives who had made contributions to a fund to fix up the US Missouri, the ship on which Japan surrendered in World War II.
Let's try and imagine the scene. They are all sitting there, partying and hanging out and talking about Pearl Harbor and the USS Missouri and then they spot this boat. And maybe somebody comments, "I bet it's one of those damn foreign trawlers, grabbing our fish." And someone, perhaps the captain, has a great idea. "Why not get real close to that ship and then perform a rapid ascent maybe 100 yards away? Break out of the water. Scare everyone on board to death."
And then, assuming the captain is not an actual madman, he miscalculated.
Crime and Accident
The original title of this article was 'The Sinking of the Ehime Maru: Not an Accident. ' We changed the title because it was confusing. The term, "accident", can be used to mean very different things. On the hand a person may be driving on an icy road and hit something and we could call that an accident.
On the other hand, what if the person flies down an icy road at 90 miles an hour planning to stop short behind another car? That is quite a different matter. The collision that occurs may not have been intended - and that may cause people to call it an accident because it is an unplanned and unintended event. Yet the occurrence of a crash and injuries or death were reasonably "foreseeable", that is not unlikely, given the actions of the driver.
The Greeneville is a 6900 ton nuclear attack submarine. It has classified tracking and detection equipment. To believe it altered course several times and thus stayed under the trawler, but did not know it was shadowing the ship, is preposterous.
The captain had performed the exercise called 'rapid ascent' before. But even without having performed this exercise, it is not rocket science to figure out that for a 6900 ton sub to shoot up 405 feet through the ocean in under a minute, which it did, would cause immense waves.
It would be "foreseeable" (that is, reasonably possible) that these huge waves could cause problems for a much smaller vessel (500 tons) if it were nearby. These could "foreseeably" lead to serious injury or death - all this without another foreseeable (i.e., possible) event, that the Greeneville's crew or captain would miscalculate, resulting in the deadly collision that in fact occurred.
Perhaps the commander of the sub was trying to harass the people on the trawler. Perhaps he simply did not care. But the foreseeability of harm, the possibility that it would occur, makes his action criminal, just as it would be a crime if someone threw a rock through another person's front window and "accidentally" killed someone inside.
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