In a subdued voice, a sonar analyst with a 14-year career of exemplary service testified Monday that he got "a little bit lazy" and broke several safety rules, depriving the captain of the submarine Greeneville of information that could have averted the deadly collision with a Japanese fishing vessel.
While other testimony has indicated severe shortcomings on the part of several others on board the nuclear-powered submarine, Petty Officer Patrick Seacrest appears, by his words, to be the single person most clearly responsible for the tragedy.
Seacrest, once designated as an official role model for younger sailors, told a court of inquiry that he cannot explain why he acted so "poorly" in the moments before the collision that killed nine people aboard the trawler.
Seacrest failed to tell Cmdr. Scott Waddle that sonar information indicated that a ship was quickly approaching where Waddle was planning a rapid surfacing maneuver.
Seacrest testified he did not believe the information and thus did not tell Waddle or the officer of the deck, Lt.j.g. Michael Coen, even though required to do so.
Rear Adm. Paul Sullivan, a veteran submariner, questioning Seacrest, said the analyst failed to do "even the most basic" things required of someone in his job.
"What happened?" Sullivan asked in an incredulous tone.
"I don't know, sir," Seacrest replied quietly.
Seacrest alone had information indicating that the Ehime Maru was steaming directly toward the Greeneville's position.
He testified that he did not believe the information because Waddle and Coen during a periscope search had not seen vessels that close. But testimony has suggested the periscope search was too brief and was hampered by a hazy sky and choppy sea.
After his testimony, Seacrest asked the three admirals sitting as the court of inquiry to consider his 14 years of service and his several decorations before deciding whether to recommend that he be court-martialed for dereliction of duty.
Contradicting an earlier statement, Seacrest said the presence of 16 civilian VIPs in the control room played no role in his apparent decision not to provide what in Navy-speak is called "backup," timely information to his superiors.
Seacrest testified that he failed to see a console readout indicating that the Ehime Maru was closing at 4,000 yards.
When he saw a display moments later indicating the ship was at 2,300 yards, he did not believe it, he said, because the periscope search hadn't seen the ship.
The analysis of sonar information _ which a submarine needs to avoid collisions, or, in time of war, to fire its torpedoes accurately _ is a complex science requiring that raw data be fed into a computer for a "solution."
The answers from the computer are not always precise, and experienced analysts such as Seacrest sometimes decide the computer is incorrect, based on their experience and other information such as periscope searches.