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Navy must admit fault in recent sea accidents

Feb. 13, 2001

A Los Angeles Class Nuclear submarine, the USS Greeneville, destroyed a Japanese fighting vessel Friday about 9 miles off the shore of Oahu, Hawaii.

The submarine was performing a routine 'emergency ascent' drill when it struck the Japanese research boat. Aboard the vessel were 35 fishery students, instructors and crew, nine of who are unaccounted for.

'This is an operation that we do on a regular basis,' Admiral Tom Fargo said in a news conference Saturday. The submarine was on its return after spending the day practicing maneuvers.

Something so practiced and routine should not result in such a tragedy. Although accidents happen, this one should have been prevented.

CNN consultant and retired Navy Captain Alec Fraser said that when a submarine performs such a maneuver, the procedure calls for a surface ship to instruct the submarine whether the surface is clear. The other option is for the submarine to surface, ensure the area is clear, and then perform the drill.

Was there a surface ship during this drill? The submarine shouldn't be allowed to do this itself, simply because it is too risky. By the time the submarine re-emerges, any number of smaller ships and boats could enter within range of the submarine.

Isn't the submarine equipped with sonar? Yes, the Navy claims the submarine first searches the water in front of the submarine with sonar before rising to periscope depth where the surface of the water is checked.

The U. S. Navy boasts this vessel to be one of its most versatile submarines in the fleet, but it can't detect a fishing boat on the surface?

I question the Navy's decision to re-assign the Greeneville's commander, Scott Waddle. I can understand the Navy's desire to question the commander and his crew, but why would they re-assign him? This makes him look at fault.

MSNBC reports that a similar event took place in 1989 with the USS Barcona off the shore of California.

As the Houston ascended to periscope depth to repair some type of navigation device, the Houston snagged the towline of the tugboat that was towing barges.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the Houston then went into an emergency descent and pulled the tugboat under water, drowning a crew member. The Navy blamed the accident on the Houston's failure to use sonar to detect the tugboat.

I fear the Navy will have similar conclusions at the end of the Greeneville investigation. I hope whatever the cause, the Navy will learn from this tragedy and make the necessary corrections to these procedures.