The Japanese government on Thursday spoke of grave negligence by the crew of the submarine that sank a Japanese fishing vessel - and may push for disciplinary action.
The rising tension over the Feb. 9 accident came after U.S. investigators said the USS Greeneville spotted a ship in the area more than an hour before the collision off the coast of Hawaii. Nine Japanese - including four high school students - are missing and presumed dead.
The U.S. submarine made a sudden surfacing despite the detection of a boat - that indicates grave negligence, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda said. We take it as a grave matter and we must take measures on our own.
Fukuda said his government looked forward to a full account of the causes of the accident in a Navy court of inquiry next Monday, and that Tokyo would push for strict disciplinary steps on the U.S. side if necessary.
Fukuda spoke as family members of the victims arrived in Tokyo from Hawaii and southern Japan to meet separately with Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley. They requested that every effort be made to salvage the sunken fishing vessel and recover the bodies of the missing.
Evidence that a crewman who was plotting sonar readings on the submarine was distracted by civilian guests and halted his work also drew heated criticism on Thursday in Japan.
It is extremely regrettable, Mori told reporters. It is quite natural that we should ask the United States government for a thorough investigation.
The disclosures have only stoked anger in Japan over the collision and the response by the U.S. military. Many in Japan have been irked, for example, by delays in release of details about the presence of civilians on board the sub and what role they may have played in the accident.
Fifteen family members of victims arrived in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon and met consecutively with Mori and Foley in the evening.
During their meeting with the prime minister, they requested that Japanese salvage experts be allowed to participate in ascertaining the feasibility of raising the Ehime Maru.
The relatives told Mori that they were desperate to have some remembrance of their missing loved ones, said Kazuhiko Koshikawa, the prime minister's deputy press secretary. They also asked the Japanese government to arrange a meeting between them and U.S. President George W. Bush.
Mori expressed his sympathies and promised to make every effort to fulfill their requests, Koshikawa said.
The families have been pushing for Cmdr. Scott Waddle to come to their small town in southwestern Japan and apologize directly to them. That is unlikely, however, bcause of the legal implications of taking responsibility for the accident before the investigation is completed.
The families did get an apology from the U.S. ambassador during their meeting Thursday evening. A U.S. Embassy spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, would say only that it was a private meeting ... to exchange their concerns.
A string of apologies have already been made by the U.S. government, including by President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Anger over the accident has also compounded tensions over the heavy U.S. military presence on the southern island of Okinawa, where crimes linked to American troops have heightened calls for a reduction of forces there.
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