Sunday, February 11, 2001
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Posted at 6:05 p.m. February 11, 2001

Defense secretary to investigate submarine training

By Susan Roth
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON—Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said today that an investigation into the U.S. Navy submarine collision with a Japanese training vessel will include an examination of whether the Navy should conduct future submarine training further away from shore.

Speaking on today's morning news shows, Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated the U.S. government’s deepest apologies to Japan for the accident while pledging cooperation in all investigations.

While practicing an emergency ascent in waters nine miles south of Diamond Head, the USS Greeneville, a Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, rammed the Ehime Maru, a tuna trawler carrying 35, including high school students and teachers from Uwajima. Nine people — four teenagers, two teachers and three crew members— are still missing.

Responding for the first time to reports that a U.S. Navy submarine did not send anyone in the water after hitting a Japanese training vessel, Powell said it’s important not to overreact to the situation.

“I saw those reports, and I don’t have any additional information on it. I’m sure that once the sub got to the surface, it had to stabilize itself before opening its hatches and the crew members coming out. But I think, let’s wait before we pass judgment on what the crew might have done.”

Japanese citizens and media have reacted with outrage over the Navy’s decision not to send anyone into the water.

Confronted with questions about what caused the accident, including possible negligence on the part of the submarine crew, Powell and Rumsfeld deferred to the ongoing investigation involving military and transportation officials.

“I don’t have the details on what happened, and I think we’ll have to wait for the Department of Defense and the Navy to conduct that investigation,” Powell said. “It’s a terrible tragedy, and we have expressed our apology and our condolences at every level.”

Noting that he had sent President Bush’s regrets to the Japanese government and people, Powell said, “We’re very, very sorry it happened. But I’m also pleased that our relationship with Japan is so strong that we should not see this damage our relationship.”

Investigators from the Navy and the National Transportation Safety Board will check on whether the submarine followed proper procedures in checking the water’s surface before performing the ascent exercise.

Rumsfeld said the Navy and Coast Guard were still on a search-and-rescue mission for the missing people even as hope was fading that they would be found alive.

Like Powell, Rumsfeld said he called his Japanese counterpart, Defense Agency chief Toshitsugu Saito, yesterday to express regrets for the incident and pledge to “do everything humanly possible to try to find the remaining participants on that ship.”

Both leaders said the United States is doing all it can to help the families of the victims, offering information as soon as possible, helping them travel to Honolulu and putting them up in hotels.

Powell also noted that the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Thomas Foley, has been in contact with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and went to Osaka to see the families off as they left for Honolulu to get firsthand information and be reunited with their loved ones.

Kyodo News Service reported that during talks with Foley on Sunday evening Japan time, Mori urged the United States to consider raising the Japanese boat from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean because the missing people are believed to be inside. Foley was visiting Mori to apologize once again on behalf of Bush and the U.S. government.

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