President briefed on submarine wreck investigation

April 14, 2005

Department of Foreign Affairs

On Friday, April 01, 2005, FSM President Joseph J. Urusemal was briefed on the findings of an ongoing investigation into the USS San Francisco Grounding in January. For the first time since the incident, officials confirmed that the submarine accident occurred within FSM waters.

Ambassador Suzanne Hale, Commodore Bradley R. Gehrke, Commander U.S. Navy Submarine Squadron 15, and Lt. Commander Douglas Lito, COMNAVMAR Civil/Military Affairs Officer, were received by Urusemal to present updates on the USS San Francisco grounding. Also present at the briefing was Acting Secretary Lorin Robert who reiterated the FSM government's condolences for the death of Joseph Allen Ashley, and wished for the speedy recovery for others injured during the accident. Legal counsel staff from the FSM Congress were also in attendance.

Commodore Gehrke briefed the President on the exact location of the USS San Francisco grounding which he confirmed is in FSM EEZ, some 25 miles north of Satawal Island the State of Yap. He stated that the collision with a seamount caused damage to the nose of USS San Francisco, and further assured the President that there was no leakage of radioactive material into the ocean surroundings.

Deep sea rock fragments retrieved from the nose of San Francisco provided assurances that it hit a seamount rather than a reef. There was no evidence that the submarine, operating at a depth greater than 250 feet, damaged reefs or shallow water ecosystems, which do not grow below 160 feet.

Gehrke reported that the final report of the investigation into the grounding, still pending, would incorporate lessons learned from the incident in order to prevent a reoccurrence, and, it will be provided to the FSM once it is released to the public. He acknowledged the need for rapid communication between the United States and the FSM when such events take place. Urusemal and Gehrke agreed there is need to enhance procedures for notification. Urusemal underscored the urgent need for prompt communication in the event that assistance by FSM patrol boats or other vessels are needed in emergency situations.

Thanking Hale and Gehrke, Urusemal recalled visits by the U.S. Navy ships in earlier times, and encouraged future port calls throughout the FSM, especially the outer islands. Gehrke stated that the U.S. Navy looked forward to continuing its strong, positive relationship with the FSM.