PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- Saying he is worried about being "sacrificed" by the Navy to placate the Japanese, the skipper of the submarine Greeneville said Tuesday that he takes full responsibility for the deadly collision with a Japanese fishing vessel but he also blamed his crew for disobeying orders.
"I did not micro-manage my crew, I empowered them to do their job," Cmdr. Scott Waddle told a panel of three skeptical and, at times, hostile admirals. " ... In this case, the process broke."
Waddle made the surprise decision to testify, despite being refused testimonial immunity, as the court of inquiry into the tragedy came to a close.
Waddle began with an emotional apology to the families of nine Ehime Maru crew members and students lost at sea.
"As commanding officer, I am solely responsible for this truly tragic accident," he said. "I will have to live with the consequences for the rest of my life."
Turning to the tearful widows of two crew members in the front row of the tiny courtroom, Waddle said, "This court and these families need to hear from me."
In a voice that was strong but flat, sometimes defensive, Waddle said that on Feb. 9 he was only "trying to do the job I was assigned."
A submarine fleet public relations officer had assigned the Greeneville to take 16 civilian VIPs to sea as part of the Navy's Distinguished Visitors public relations program.
Vice Adm. John Nathman, president of the court, accused Waddle of acting improperly by pushing the sub to a speed and depth beyond what the Navy acknowledges as the sub's maximum.
The sub also executed an "emergency blow," a dangerous maneuver that sends the sub rocketing to the surface. As the sub broke the surface, it smashed into the Ehime Maru, sinking the vessel within 10 minutes.
Nathman said Waddle decided to give the civilians "a super e-ticket ride at Disneyland aboard a submarine."
And by showing the civilians that the sub can go faster than 25 knots and deeper than 800 feet -- the limits acknowledged by the Navy -- Waddle was potentially releasing military secrets, Nathman said.
Waddle disagreed, saying that he ordered the dramatic maneuvers because the average day aboard a submarine is "about as exciting as watching grass grow."
"There is something special about taking the ship to its operational capabilities," Waddle said, "and giving the (visitors) an example of what these wonderful pieces of engineering marvel can do."
Waddle's five hours of testimony came as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori visited the collision site, nine miles off Diamond Head, to lay a Hawaiian floral wreath. Waddle noted the Mori visit and said he is worried the Navy will decide that "the international and political environment dictated that I be sacrificed for an unwarranted court-martial."
The suggestion appeared to anger Nathman, who quizzed Waddle about whether he believes any of the admirals "is political."
Waddle said he has no indication that Rear Adm. David Stone or Rear Adm. Paul Sullivan has political aspirations. Asked by Nathman about himself, Waddle said: "I don't know what your political aspirations may be."
"Why would I have political aspirations?" Nathman responded.
Waddle did not reply.
Before Waddle took the witness stand, the court of inquiry's top lawyer warned that he is suspected of dereliction of duty, negligent homicide and "improperly hazarding a ship."
While insisting that his crew's performance Feb. 9 was "the exception not the rule," Waddle said his crew members improperly swapped jobs in the control room and did a poor job in plotting the location of surface ships, including the Ehime Maru.
Waddle said he was shocked to learn during testimony by other crew members that it was common practice for inexperienced sonar operators to stand watch without the continuous supervision required by Navy regulations.
"I'm surprised it took two years and a horrible accident to bring it to my attention," said Waddle, who assumed command of Greeneville in March 1999.
"Captain, it was on your boat!" Nathman said.
Asked repeatedly by the admirals why he missed seeing the Ehime Maru in his periscope search, Waddle said he cannot explain how he missed the trawler.
He rejected suggestions that it was because his periscope search was only 80 seconds, not the three minutes considered standard.
"I got a good look," he said. "I got a look over the rolling swells. I don't know why I didn't see the Ehime Maru. I only know I didn't."
He also turned away any suggestion that he cut corners on safety measures because he was running behind schedule and eager to get back to what the Navy calls Papa Hotel, the entryway to Honolulu Harbor.
On Monday, a sonar analyst testified that he broke several safety rules, including not telling Waddle or the officer of the deck, Lt. j.g. Michael Coen, that a ship might be at 2,300 yards and closing.
That ship proved to be the Ehime Maru. Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Thomas Seacrest, the analyst said he disbelieved the 2,300-yard warning on his computer console because Waddle and Coen had not spotted any ship that close during periscope inspection prior to the rapid ascent.
"On Greeneville, we set standards and we adhere to them," Waddle testified. "On this tragic day, mistakes were made."
The admirals, in their questioning, faulted Waddle for not talking with either his officers or his senior enlisted personnel about ships in the area or asking whether they had adequate sonar information.
Waddle testified that he had spent an unexpectedly long lunch chatting with the civilians, many of whom were being rewarded for having raised funds for a memorial and museum of the battleship Missouri, the ship where the Japanese signed the unconditional surrender that ended World War II.
Before the collision, Waddle was a rising star, almost assuredly destined for promotion and greater command responsibility in the Navy.
In the days after the crash, Waddle was relieved of command and given desk duty. He has said he assumes his Naval career is finished, even if Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the Pacific Fleet, decides against a court-martial.
The court of inquiry, convened by Fargo, is charged with determining the cause of the accident, how future collisions can be avoided, whether any punishment is merited, and whether the Distinguished Visitors program should be modified.
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