The collision immediately sank the 191-foot fishing vessel, killing nine Japanese, including three crew members, four students, and two teachers. The students were being trained in commercial fishing.
The sinking occurred on the same day that Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Earl Hailston met with local officials from the island of Okinawa to apologize for calling them "nuts and a bunch of wimps" in an e-mail to Marine commanders. The note expressed Hailston's reaction to local anger about an incident in which a Marine allegedly lifted the skirt of a young Japanese girl to photograph her underwear. Of the 47,000 U.S. military forces stationed on 39 bases in Japan, 26,000 are located on Okinawa, 1,000 miles southwest of Tokyo.
The USS Greeneville, a 362-foot nuclear-powered attack submarine, was carrying out a maneuver called an emergency main ballast blow, described in the Washington Post as a "super-rapid ascent from hundreds of feet below the ocean surface" which "sends the submarine rocketing through the water and then breaching like a whale." There were 15 civilian guests on board at the time, two of them at control positions.
When the sub reached the surface, it collided with the Ehime Maru with the force of a torpedo, tearing open the engine room and causing fuel to spill out. The ship sank in 10 minutes.
The Greeneville's crew did nothing to save the survivors, according to Hisao Onishi, the Japanese ship's captain, and rescue work did not start until the Coast Guard arrived about an hour later. "I expected the crew to drop a lifeboat, but they just watched," Onishi said.
A U.S. Navy spokesperson, Lt. Cmdr. Conrad Chun, said the submarine crew "was unable to take survivors on board due to the hazardous sea conditions," which were described as six- to eight-foot waves.
Captain Onishi, however, said the waves did not even breach the life rafts that he and other survivors were using. Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori told the U.S. ambassador that the Japanese people have a "deep distrust" of the Navy's account.
As the facts emerged about the presence of civilian guests at the controls of the ship, Japanese defense minister Toshitsugu Saito said their presence was "outrageous" and called the Navy "slack." President George Bush stated publicly that the Defense Department should review the policy of routinely inviting civilian "opinion leaders" to witness or participate in military exercises.
The visit of some of the civilians on the Greeneville was arranged by Adm. Richard Macke, who was forced to retire in 1995 because of anger in Japan at remarks he made about the conviction of three U.S. servicemen for the rape of a Japanese schoolgirl in Okinawa. Macke said the whole matter could have been avoided if the men had paid a prostitute instead. "For the price they paid to rent the car" they were driving, he told reporters, "they could have had a girl."
Last July, a Marine stationed in Okinawa was arrested for entering an unlocked apartment and sexually molesting a 14-year-old girl while she was sleeping, and an Air Force sergeant was accused of a hit-and-run crime against a pedestrian on the island. The following month another Marine was convicted of raping a local woman.
During the annual summit meeting of the world's leading capitalist industrial powers on Okinawa last July, 27,000 Okinawans surrounded the Kadena Air Base in protest of the presence of U.S. troops there. On February 15 an assembly in the town of Chatan, Okinawa, unanimously called for the withdrawal of all U.S. Marines from the island and the resignation of General Hailston for his insulting remarks. The Okinawa City assembly had called for Hailston's dismissal a week earlier.
In addition, the Chatan assembly demanded the U.S. military hand over a Marine suspected in a series of arson attacks, which the Pentagon at first refused, and then agreed to February 16. Working people in Okinawa have opposed the U.S. bases since they were built following World War II.
The debate in Japan about the sinking of the trawler and the presence of the U.S. military in Okinawa takes place as the Bush administration is pressing Tokyo to cooperate in building the antimissile shield the new administration is promoting.
U.S. troops out of Japan
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