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Sub Commander Reprimanded

By Edward Walsh
THE WASHINGTON POST -- The commander of the U.S. submarine that collided with a Japanese fishing vessel carrying high school students near Hawaii in February received a letter of reprimand Monday, a step that will end the career of an officer who had been considered one of the Navy’s rising stars.

Cmdr. Scott D. Waddle, skipper of the fast attack submarine USS Greeneville, received the formal reprimand at the end of a one-hour disciplinary proceeding conducted by Adm. Thomas B. Fargo, commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Fargo also ordered Waddle to give up half of his pay for two months, but suspended that action, and began proceedings formally to remove him as the Greeneville’s commanding officer. Charles W. Gittins, Waddle’s civilian lawyer, said the 41-year-old officer intends to retire by Oct. 1. He will be entitled to a full pension.

The collision strained U.S. relations with a key ally and put a spotlight on the practice, followed by all the military services, of inviting civilians to observe military exercises in order to build civilian support. There were 16 civilians aboard the Greeneville when it surfaced under the Ehime Maru, which sank within minutes.

At a news conference at Pacific Fleet headquarters at Pearl Harbor, Fargo said he found Waddle guilty of “dereliction in the performance of his duties” and “negligent hazarding of a vessel” leading to the collision that killed nine people aboard the 190-foot Ehime Maru. He said there were “two fundamental causes” of the collision: an inadequate periscope and sonar search for surface vessel traffic before the submarine surfaced, and the failure of the Greeneville’s officers and men to work together and share information about conditions on the surface.

Waddle “created an artificial sense of urgency in preparation for surfacing when prudent seamanship, the safety of his submarine and good judgment dictated otherwise,” Fargo said. “In doing do, he marginalized key contact management and control room personnel, cut corners on prescribed operational procedures and inhibited the proper development of the (surface) contact picture.”

But Fargo said he did not institute court-martial proceedings because an investigation of the accident produced no evidence of “criminal intent or deliberate misconduct” on Waddle’s part.

“I understand and accept the punishment that Admiral Fargo imposed,” Waddle said in a statement. “While I regret that my Navy career has ended in this way, I know that I am one of the lucky ones because I survived the accident.”

The Feb. 9 collision occurred as the Greeneville practiced an emergency surfacing maneuver. The Ehime Maru was steaming with students from a Japanese vocational high school who were learning commercial fishing. The Coast Guard rescued 26 survivors from the trawler, but four students, two teachers and three crew members were killed.

The incident caused an uproar in Japan, where Fargo’s decision not to institute court-martial proceedings against Waddle was sharply criticized. Monday, a lawyer for family members of some of those aboard the Ehime Maru said they might sue the Navy and perhaps the civilians.

Acting on the recommendations of a Navy court of inquiry, a panel of three senior admirals who held two weeks of public hearings on the collision, Fargo conducted a second disciplinary proceeding Monday, known as an admiral’s mast, at which he admonished Lt. Michael J. Coen, the Greeneville’s officer of the deck.