“This is the Ehime Maru. Please salvage the ship,” Kazuo Nakata pleads as he holds a picture of the sunken fishing vessel. Also attending a tearful news conference in Honolulu are Naoko Nakata, center, wife of missing teacher Jun Nakata, and family member Mika Makisawa. Nine people were killed when the Ehime Maru was struck by the surfacing USS Greeneville.
Man responsible bears guilt
By William Cole
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Feb 07, 2011
Ten years ago Wednesday, the USS Greeneville was impressing 16 civilian guests south of Oahu with some of the capabilities of a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine.
On the surface, there was open-air time with the Greeneville's gregarious, cigar-smoking captain, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, as the sub powered through the waves.
Underwater there were steep ascents and descents -- "angles and dangles" in Navy jargon, at one point reaching a classified depth below 800 feet -- as well as high-speed turns.
And finally, there was the demonstration of an emergency main ballast tank blow, an action that forces 4,500 pounds per square inch of air into ballast tanks, causing the 6,900-ton submarine to breach the surface like a humpback whale.
On Feb. 9, 2001, the Greeneville, longer than a football field, rocketed upward from a depth of 400 feet, its crew not knowing it was on a collision course with a Japanese high school fishing training vessel, the Ehime Maru.
What came at 1:43 p.m. was unthinkable: The submarine hit the Japanese ship. The Greeneville's steel rudder -- reinforced to punch through Arctic ice -- cut through the underbelly of the 190-foot Ehime Maru.
The Japanese vessel sank in five minutes nine miles south of Diamond Head. Twenty-six on board survived, but nine others -- including four high school students -- perished.
Never in U.S. Navy history had a collision between a nuclear submarine and a civilian vessel killed so many people.
"I'm fully aware there's a lot of pain and anguish, and I know from my perspective I'll never be able to get forgiveness from the Japanese families for the losses they suffered," Waddle said last week by phone from his home in Cary, N.C.
Memorial set for Wednesday
Waddle was not tried at court-martial, but he was found guilty at an "admiral's mast" of dereliction of duty and negligent hazarding of a vessel. He was allowed to retire with full benefits after 20 years in the Navy.
He was accused of cutting corners, marginalizing key crew members and rushing through procedures leading up to the sinking.
On Wednesday the Ehime Maru Memorial Association will hold a service from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at Kakaako Waterfront Park, where there is a memorial to the loss.
Seven of the nine families who lost a family member are expected to attend, along with Ehime prefecture Gov. Tokihiro Nakamura, Uwajima City Mayor Hirohisa Ishibashi, Uwajima Fisheries High School Principal Kanji Nogami and other officials, the memorial association said.
Waddle apologized to the families at least four times -- once in Japan in late 2002 to relatives of 17-year-old Yusuke Terata, whose body was the final recovery made by the Navy.
Waddle still lives with the details that caused so much pain, relating how Terata's roommate, Takeshi Mizuguchi, also 17, was never found.
"Yusuke clung onto the foremast crying out to Takeshi Mizuguchi and also to Jun Nakata, his instructor, and he (Nakata) wasn't about to leave either one of them, and all three perished," Waddle said.
The sinking was a public relations disaster for Waddle, the Navy and the United States. The events of that day commanded international news for months to come and led to permanent changes in how the U.S. submarine force trains.
President George W. Bush apologized on national television as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori immediately requested that the sunken vessel be raised. The families of the dead bitterly criticized Waddle for his actions.
The Navy spent $60 million to recover the Ehime Maru and eight of nine missing crew, $11.47 million for compensation to Ehime prefecture, $16.5 million to compensate families and $2 million to repair the Greeneville.