A Brief History
On February 9, 2001, the U.S. Navy nuclear submarine USS Greeneville (SSN 772) accidentally sank the Japanese training fishing vessel Ehime Maru on board which were some high school students.
The Greeneville had been conducting maneuvers of the coast of Honolulu, Hawaii with guests aboard, mostly big-money donors to the Battleship Missouri Memorial at Pearl Harbor. In the course of conducting an emergency main ballast tank blow and ascent, the nuclear sub came up underneath the Ehime Maru in a terrific collision that smashed the hapless fishing boat and sank it within 10 minutes. Japanese losses were 9 dead, with 4 high school students among the deceased.
Please watch the below video for a first-hand account of the incident by none other than the captain of the Greenville, Commander (Cdr.) Waddle, himself.
Japan was outraged at the carelessness of the submarine commander who, before conducting his emergency breach, should have ensured that the sea above his sub was clear. Further anger was directed at the Americans because of the failure of the submarine’s crew to immediately render assistance. Enmities continued when Cdr. Waddle was not court-martialed, although he did accept responsibility and resigned (retired) from the Navy. Cdr. Waddle was, however, at least given captain’s mast (non-judicial punishment) in which he received a reprimand and a fine suspended for 6 months after which it was waived, and the U.S. government did compensate the families of the victims and the Government of Japan.
The Greeneville suffered some damage of her own and required $2 million worth in repairs. Following the incident, U.S. Navy rules concerning guests on board their ships were modified.
The USS Greeneville is a 362-foot long, Los Angeles-class attack submarine that entered service in 1996. Powered by a nuclear reactor, she is armed with 4 torpedo tubes and 12 vertical Tomahawk cruise missile launchers that can be used for attacking ships or land targets with conventional or nuclear warheads.
In an interesting twist to this incident, when the Japanese Prime Minister was informed of the incident, he continued to play golf for another hour and a half before finishing his round and addressing the crisis. Needless to say, the Japanese public was, once again, appalled.
Question for students (and subscribers): Would you ever travel in a nuclear powered submarine? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Bonner, Carolyn and Kit Bonner. Great Ship Disasters. MBI, 2003.