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By Sally Apgar
Advertiser Staff Writer
The U.S. Navy has declined to release the names of 15 civilian guests who were aboard the USS Greeneville at the time it struck and sank a Japanese fishing boat.
The Navys continued refusal to identify the civilians raises questions about who was aboard the submarine and whether it was a contributing factor to the accident.
The Navy has confirmed that at the time of the accident two of the civilian guests were at the submarines steering controls.
Civilians, including politicians and business and civic leaders from around the country, are routinely taken on public relations trips to familiarize them with the Navys submarines.
Navy specialists say that it is not unusual as part of the day trips for civilians, under the close supervision of trained personnel, to take a turn at the controls.
After making several verbal requests for the guest list over the weekend, The Advertiser made formal written requests first on Monday and again yesterday. The newspaper argued that the list was of public interest because of the seriousness of the accident.
Responding to The Advertisers request on Monday, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet said the newspaper "will not get" the sailing list that would identify the civilians.
Spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Conrad Chun said the 15 guests requested that their names not be released to protect their privacy. Chun said the Navy would formally respond to The Advertisers written request in a day or two.
Lawyers for The Advertiser wrote a letter yesterday to several branches of the military arguing that the Navy should turn over the list because "this incident including concerns about the role the presence of civilians may have played in the sinking and the subsequent actions of those aboard the Greeneville involves matters of international interest and concern, affecting the government of the United States, the people of the state of Hawaii and matters affecting health and welfare of the public."
Meanwhile, Navy leaders in Hawaii and the Pentagon are reported to be debating whether to make the list public.
Lt. Cmdr. Dave Werner, spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleets submarine force, said Sunday that the civilians on the Greeneville were "corporate leaders business leaders invited aboard to observe some of the training going on, see the hard-charging men in the sub force working as a team, defending their country and making sacrifices."
It is believed that most of the guests were from the Mainland. Directors and officers of the Honolulu Council of the Navy League of the United States, which often arranges such trips for civilians, said yesterday that the group did not make any arrangements for this particular trip and did not know the identities of the guests.
Sailors often call the tours in which civilians are invited "dependent cruises," because some of those taken along are family members of the crew.
The group was escorted by Capt. Bob Brandhuber, chief of staff for the fleets submarine force at Pearl Harbor.
Staff writer Sally Apgar can be reached at 525-8090 or email@example.com.
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