HONOLULU -- A probe into the sinking of a Japanese fishing vessel by a U.S. submarine shouldn't be hampered by the submarine captain's refusal to talk to investigators, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said.
Citing his attorney's advice, Cmdr. Scott Waddle told investigators he would not speak with them until the Navy has completed its own inquiry into the collision.
Waddle has agreed only to answer written questions about search and rescue efforts that took place after the Ehime Maru sank Feb. 9 nine miles south of Diamond Head, NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewiscz said Monday.
The NTSB is trying to determine why, with apparently functioning sonar and periscope equipment, the USS Greeneville didn't detect the Ehime Maru before it surfaced underneath the 190-foot vessel during an emergency rapid-ascent drill. The submarine tore through the hull of the ship, sinking it within minutes.
The fishing boat was on a two-month training trip with students from a Japanese high school. Twenty-six people were rescued but nine remain missing -- four students, two teachers and three crewmen.
The captain's perspective is considered crucial to understanding the events leading to the collision, but safety board investigators can't force people to speak to them, Lopatkiewiscz said.
"Our investigations tend to take more than a year," he said. "We're hopeful that the opportunity (to interview Waddle) will present itself."
The actions of Waddle and two other top officers on the submarine will be the focus of a court of inquiry -- the Navy's highest-level administrative investigation -- scheduled to begin Thursday at Pearl Harbor.
Three admirals will oversee the public proceedings, which could lead to courts-martial and possible prison terms for Waddle; executive officer Lt. Cmdr. Gerald K. Pfeifer; and officer of the deck Lt. j.g. Michael J. Coen.
The inquiry is expected to focus in part on the presence of 16 civilian guests aboard the submarine. Two civilians were at key controls during the rapid ascent, and one was allowed to pull the levers that triggered the maneuver.
Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, has refused to say whether the Navy's preliminary investigation found the civilians distracted the submarine crew or contributed to the accident.
Japanese leaders and families of the missing continued to press the United States to raise the Ehime Maru, found Friday by a deep-sea robot in 2,003 feet of water.
The Navy is using two robots to evaluate the feasibility of raising the 500-ton ship, where the missing might be entombed. That analysis isn't expected to be complete for several weeks.
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