I'd like to make a short statement and then I'll be happy to answer your questions. I've completed my review of the preliminary inquiry into the 9 February collision between USS Greeneville and the Japanese vessel "Ehime Maru," and I've elected to convene a Court of Inquiry, as delineated in the U.S Navy Judge Advocate General's manual.
The court will be constituted of three U.S. Navy flag officers and will be led by Vice Admiral John B. Nathman, the Commander of Naval Air Forces in the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Rear Admiral Paul F. Sullivan, the Director of Plans and Policy at the U.S. Strategic Command, and Rear Admiral David M. Stone, the Commander of Cruiser/Destroyer Group Five, will also be members of this court. We also intend to invite Japan to send a Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force flag officer to participate as an advisor.
As you may know, the Court of Inquiry is the Navy's highest form of administrative investigation and a formal hearing. I've elected this course of action after reviewing the facts, opinions and recommendations expressed in the preliminary inquiry, because a Court of Inquiry provides the necessary legal safeguards for the affected parties, complete subpoena power and a forum for public disclosure.
The Commanding Officer, Executive Officer and the Officer of the Deck of USS Greeneville at the time of the accident have been designated as parties to the inquiry. They will be afforded their due process rights, including their right to be represented by counsel.
The court is directed to inquire into all facets of the collision. They'll make recommended administrative or disciplinary action, if appropriate, as well as to make any other recommendations as to the circumstances surrounding the incident.
I expect this court to convene on or about Thursday the 22nd of February in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, so as not to conflict with the ongoing National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) investigation. As you know, we're cooperating closely with the NTSB.
And finally, the seriousness in which I view this tragic accident is reflected in the level of the investigation and the seniority of the court members. They will provide a full and open accounting to both the American and the Japanese people.
Thank you. I will be happy to take your questions now.
(Note: Reporter's questions were not amplified as were the admiral's statement and answers. They are paraphrased as closely as possible by a U.S. Navy journalist present at the briefing.)
Q: Were those who are named as parties negligent in their actions?
ADM: After reviewing the preliminary inquiry I felt that the Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer and the Officer of the Deck should be designated as parties. I won't make any judgments at this point as to their negligence or performance.
Q: Is the Board of Inquiry the same as a Grand Jury in the civilian world?
ADM: I think it's a little different than a Grand Jury in that it's an administrative investigation. Once again, it's the highest form of administrative investigation that the Navy has. It will lead to recommendations that will be provided to me as to what follow-on actions might be taken.
Q: Is this different from a courts martial?
ADM: Yes this is different from a courts martial. This is an administrative investigation.
Q: Did you find in your preliminary survey of the investigation that the civilians on board the submarine posed any distractions to the crew or contributed to the accident?
ADM: Well, I reviewed the inquiry, obviously in great depth. I have asked Admiral Nathman to look into this specific execution or implementation of our distinguished visitors program and he'll do that as part of this Court of Inquiry.
Q: But did you find any distractions of the crew by the civilians onboard? Did they do that maneuver, heading toward the surface, for the benefit of the civilian visitors?
ADM: I need to make that clear once again, that this is an issue that will be the subject of the Court of Inquiry and Admiral Nathman, in my convening order has been asked to take a very close look at this.
Q: Is it right to conclude that if the civilians had not been on the Greeneville that the submarine would not have performed the emergency ballast blow?
ADM: As I told you last Saturday when I talked to you, we do the emergency main ballast tank blow for three purposes; for demonstration, for training and to verify the operability of the systems. So the captain does this for a number of reasons...in this particular case I believe it was a demonstration.
Q: Would he have done that if the civilians weren't on board.
ADM: I think we will have to leave that to the Court of Inquiry to determine.
Q: Sir, is the Court an open Court?
ADM: Yes, it is an open court and the public will have access to the court as will the media, within the limitations of space. And we're working all the details on that right now to make sure we can meet the fundamental piece that I mentioned earlier which is a full and open hearing.
Q: Could this lead to a courts martial?
ADM: Yes it could.
Q: You have decided on this particular course of action. What would have been the level below this?
ADM: There are three potential levels I could have gone to. There is the Commander's Investigation, a Board of Inquiry or this Court of Inquiry and after reviewing the facts and opinions and recommendations and certainly the endorsement of Admiral Konetzni, I determined it was my judgement a Court of Inquiry was the proper level to address this major incident.
Q: Do you have a plan to release any pictures or videotapes taken by Scorpio II to families of the victims and to the media?
ADM: Yes, we do. The videotapes that have been taken by Scorpio have been moved ashore. We're in the process of duplicating these tapes right now. We will provide those to the families very quickly. After the families have had a chance to see those and that's complete then we'll provide them to the media.
Q: Do you have the names of the Commanding Officer, the Executive Officer and the Officer of the Deck?
ADM: I'll give you those for the record after we've finished here.
ADDENDUM FOR THE RECORD:
Commanding Officer - Cdr. Scott Waddle
Executive Officer - Lt.Cdr. Gerald K. Pfeifer
Officer of the Deck - Lt.j.g. Michael J. Coen
Q: Will you give us the statement?
ADM: Yes, we'll give you the statement.
Q: Besides the Board of Inquiry are there any immediate steps being taken to restrict or change procedures for similar demonstrations?
ADM: Yes, we've done two things. We have provided direction to all our people that the distinguished visitors program, those people that go aboard, will only function as observers. We've also restricted the emergency blow demonstrations pending the completion of this Court of Inquiry.
Q: Are you also considering having these submarines discontinuing the emergency ballast blows in close-to-shore waters or heavily trafficked waters?
ADM: Well I would classify these waters as low to moderately trafficked. One of the things I have asked Admiral Griffiths to do as part of this investigation is to look into the appropriateness of this particular operating area to conduct the emergency surfacing drill.
Q: Can you talk about some of the events of the Court of Inquiry?
ADM: Certainly, let me talk a little about the Court of Inquiry. First of all we hope to start the Court of Inquiry on Thursday the 22nd. That start date will be very closely coordinated with the NTSB to make sure that it is de-conflicted from their investigation. The Court of Inquiry will be convened. Of course the court is based on the preliminary inquiry. So I would expect the President of the Court would lay out a plan for witnesses and statements and then would be able to provide that in the first couple of days of this particular investigation.
Q: Where exactly will the Inquiry be held in Pearl Harbor?
ADM: At the Trial Services Office here.
Q: Can you comment about the families of the missing that are in Hawaii?
ADM: Families have been a great concern of ours throughout this past week. As I mentioned last Saturday we established an assistance center. We've have been trying to facilitate the families information in terms of the search and rescue. We have taken them out, as you know, to the accident site. We have taken them down to the Scorpio so they can understand the survey techniques we have available, and as I mentioned we're going to provide them the tapes as soon as we can get them duplicated. I will tell you, I lived in Japan for 2 ½ years when I was in high school. I have also served there as a naval officer. I've got great empathy for the Japanese people and their families and we're going to do everything in our power to make sure we have full accounting of this accident and take care of their needs here in Hawai'i.
Q: One of their requests was to get an apology from the captain of the submarine. Is that something that might happen?
ADM: The question dealt with an apology from the captain. As you know the captain, as I just mentioned, has been named as a party to this investigation so there are legal implications I think with respect to that. It will certainly be his judgement.
Q: Are you releasing that list of civilians today?
ADM: Now that the preliminary inquiry is completed, and of course the preliminary investigation was a closed investigation, I've released the names of those people and I did so because as I mentioned, the Court of Inquiry is an open investigation and an open hearing and will be available to all media.
CDR Bruce Cole (U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs Officer): If I may, for your purposes the list of civilians on board the vessel, we are posting that on our web site and (noise). You can go to our web site at www.cpf.navy.mil.
ADM: I'll take one more question.
Q: Will Captain Waddle come to the court to speak?
ADM: I would expect that the Court of Inquiry will ask Captain Waddle to testify or provide a statement.
Q: How long will the court meet?
ADM: I can't answer that question. The court will meet until it's completed its deliberations. Obviously, there's a key balance point here that has to be struck between speed --making sure that we get the information out to the American and Japanese people-- and the thoroughness of the investigation and the rights of the individuals involved. Thank you very much.
Click here for information on a "Court of Inquiry"