Families of the nine Japanese victims sat in the front row as the court of inquiry opened in Hawaii.
The commander of the Pacific Fleet, Vice Admiral John Nathman, told the audience that the goal of the hearing is to prevent a recurrence.
Sub Commander Scott Waddle walked into the courtroom hand in hand with his wife. Today, his attorney said while Waddle accepts responsibility — that doesn’t mean that he should be held criminally liable.
Three Navy admirals are presiding over the court, and will recommend whether Waddle and two other officers should be court-martialed.
Waddle’s civilian lawyer, Charles Gittins, objected to the presence of Admiral Isamu Ozawa of Japan as a nonvoting member of the court. Gittins said attorneys are unable to challenge Ozawa as they can the other three voting members. The other three judges can be questioned, challenged and potentially removed. The Japanese representative, even though he can’t vote, cannot be removed.
Gittins said Navy rules don’t appear to allow the Japanese admiral to deliberate with the other three judges. He also objected because the Japanese admiral is not part of the U.S. Navy has never taken an oath under the U.S. Constitution.
Waddle, who initially declined to speak publicly about the accident and refused to answer questions from investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board, traveled to Japan last week to meet privately with victims’ families and offer his apology.
The inquiry will focus on why the crew of the Greeneville failed to detect the presence of the Ehime Maru before beginning an emergency rapid ascent drill. Preliminary reports from the NTSB show that a crew member detected the fishing boat about an hour before the collision.
Investigators will also ask about the 16 civilian guests on board at the time of the accident, and whether their presence distracted the crew from their duties. Two civilians were seated at control stations but crew members say they were closely supervised and could not have contributed to the accident.