U.S. submarine crewman distracted by civilians


HONOLULU, Reuters

A crew member on the submarine USS Greeneville told the National Transportation Safety Board that civilians were “distracting” as the vessel prepared to surface on Feb. 9 before it sank a Japanese teaching boat.

Nine people are missing and presumed dead from the Ehime Maru, which was carrying students from a Japanese high school on a fisheries training project. Twenty-six people were rescued.

Transportation Safety Board official John Hammerschmidt told a news conference in Honolulu on Tuesday that the sonar plotter on the submarine — a crew member who notes contact with other possible ships — said he was unable to finish plotting sonar blips because the civilians were in his way.

“He told us … that he was not able to continue his plotting … because of civilians in the area,” but did not ask them to move, Hammerschmidt said. “In terms of how important it was, we don’t know at this point.”

Hammerschmidt said the civilian guests who were aboard the submarine said they were taken to the control room after lunch and the crew put the Greeneville through several “high speed maneuvers.” The angles were so steep that the guests had to either sit down or hold on to something nearby so as not to fall over, he said.

After that, the crew took the Greeneville to periscope depth, where the officer of the deck scanned the waters above the submarine through one of the two periscopes in the control room.

The guests could see what he saw on monitors in the control room. They next descended to 400 feet and engaged in a “main emergency ballast blow,” a procedure that quickly shoots the submarine to the surface.

Hammerschmidt said the Greeneville, made sonar contact with a surface vessel at 1202 p.m. local time, and that Navy analysis showed that the contact was the Ehime Maru.

Hammerschmidt said investigators do not know what happened between the 1202 p.m. sonar contact and the collision, which occurred at 113 p.m. “We haven’t determined exactly what was done in that time frame,” he said. “That goes to the heart of our investigation.”