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Collision at Sea: Submarine Crewman Says Civilians Distracted Him

Aired February 21, 2001 - 1:10 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Were distractions aboard the USS Greeneville responsible for the submarine's collision with a Japanese fishing vessel? Investigators are looking more deeply into that question as they continue their probe into the sinking of the Ehime Maru.

CNN national correspondent Martin Savidge joins us from Honolulu -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, the NTSB has been gleaning its information from essentially two sources. That would be the sonar data logs and the crewmembers onboard the submarine at the time of the incident. Both seem to indicate that the submarine did know there was a vessel in the area about 71 minutes before the collision. But the crewmembers also say they honestly believed that the surface was clear when they came rocketing topside in their emergency blow procedure.

Now, the NTSB has also uncovered what they say are a number of anomalies: number one, the fire control technician. This is essentially the crewmember onboard the submarine that has the job of plotting the sub's position on paper. He is claiming that because there were so many civilians in the control room at the time, he wasn't able to perform his duties properly.

That doesn't mean that the submarine was completely blind. It does mean, though, that if the officer on deck or the commanding officer wanted to have a quick reference of their position, look down on the chart to see where they were, the information may not have been available for him at the time.

The NTSB is not speculating at this point that this is proof positive that the civilians were such a distraction they may have contributed to the incident at sea.

NTSB also says that there was a piece of equipment not working right: the sonar repeater. However, they also say that that should not have impacted the overall performance of the sonar equipment on the submarine.

And finally, also, the NTSB says that it has interviewed 13 of the 16 civilians; 12 of those civilians tell them that when they watched the periscope sweeps on television monitors in the submarine, they saw no sign of another ship. However, one woman says she thinks she may have seen another ship, but she does not believe it was the Ehime Maru.

Also, the NTSB investigation is continuing. The Navy now has postponed its court of inquiry. It was to begin tomorrow. Instead, they say it will begin on Monday. They simply say they just need more time to prepare -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And, Martin, what's the status of the submarine now?

SAVIDGE: The USS Greenville has moved from its berth and it's on its way to dry dock. The Navy says it wants to take a good look at that submarine out of the water to assess the damage, figure out repairs, but also use that information in its investigation. The NTSB says, yes, we'd like to look at that submarine as well.

It's a slow process. First they move it into what's called West Lock. West Lock is where they unload all the torpedoes and the Tomahawk Missiles. that will be done first before it moves into dry dock. The whole process could take about a week -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Martin Savidge in Honolulu.

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