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Saturday

What Caused a U.S. Navy Sub to Hit a 180-Foot Fishing Vessel?

Aired February 10, 2001 - 12:01 p.m. ET

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

BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: And big ocean, little ship. The odds of an accident like the one that happened off of Hawaii may seem remote, especially with the precautions that a sub crew takes when surfacing. Alec Fraser is a retired naval captain, and he joins us today to explain more about close encounters between submarines and ships.

First of all, thanks for joining us.

CAPT. ALEC FRASER, U.S. NAVY (RET.): Glad to be here.

NELSON: I guess the first question is, what do you think happened here? We've heard the initial description of the sub rising and hitting the ship in its stern, the sub's stern. How does something like that happen in your experience on the seas?

FRASER: Well, I think first of all the surfacing of the submarine happened in a naval submarine operating area that is designated on nautical charts. So, it was not unusual to surface in this area. It would normally do have done an acoustic search. It would have done a periscope search, If the weather was bad, it would have done a radar search prior to surfacing.

The fact that it hit the stern of the submarine indicates that the Japanese boat was probably astern of the submarine and one of the three things happened. Either there was an equipment failure or the weather was so bad they couldn't see it or somebody made mistake.

NELSON: But both vessels would have had to been traveling in parallel for a quite a long time for the ship not to know -- or for the submarine not to know that the ship was there. At some point, they must have made some distance and the sub must have been able to pick up the ship on radar and have been needed to track it some point?

FRASER: That's exactly right, but I would anticipate that both ships were heading into harbor, and so they would have been heading towards Pearl Harbor or Waikiki in that area. And so, they would be on parallel courses and the submarine was probably underneath the fishing boat for a good length of time.

NELSON: So, this sounds like horrible accident?

FRASER: No. NELSON: There is something that you raised that I want to raise with you. There was a delay in reporting this accident. Why do you think that might have happened?

FRASER: Well, from what the Coast Guard is reporting, their first indications that there was a collision happened at around 2:00. The collision itself happened at 1:45. There were two indications almost simultaneously, according to the Coast Guard.

They received a phone call from the commander of Submarine Forces-Pacific that a submarine had had a collision 10 miles south of Pearl Harbor and the beacon that is attached to the fishing boat as it sank was released and that emitted an emergency signal. It was picked up on satellite and relayed immediately to the Coast Guard.

NELSON: So, were those 15 minutes critical?

FRASER: The 15 minutes would be critical if we could have gotten people out of the water faster or helped on the scene quicker. If you look at the videos of the submarine that during this particular evolution, you can see that there were waves washing over the bow and stern of the ship. It's very difficult for the submarine crew to get out on deck to be able to do much more than throw life rafts and life rings, which they did. But that's as much as they could do until boats were able to get out from Pearl Harbor and the rest of Oahu.

NELSON: In your experience, does this -- I know this doesn't happen often, but is there any frequency to accidents like this? Or is this so rare as to be almost unimaginable?

FRASER: It is a rare occurrence. It doesn't happen very often. Submarines surface dozens of times probably a day around the world. There's an interesting parallel between this and a submarine, a Japanese submarine that collided with a Japanese fishing boat in Tokyo Bay in 1988.

In that collision, the fishing boat lost 30 of the 48 people that were on board. It sank in two minutes. And there is parallel here because I'm very surprised that this Japanese boat sank as fast as it did. Eight to 10 minutes is very quick for a ship that size. It had to have a problem in the compartments not being closed or not having compartments designed in the boat.

NELSON: Well, we called fishing or research vessel, one or the other. Does that mean it has large compartments to store fish in it and they have been opened?

FRASER: I don't the design, but the findings in 1988 was that the design of the fishing boat in Tokyo Bay did not have sufficient compartments. So when one hole was placed in the ship, it went down quickly.

NELSON: All right, thank you very much. Alec Fraser, a retired naval captain. Thanks for you insights today.

FRASER: Glad to be here. NELSON: Appreciate it.

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