Navy Investigates Accident In Which Missile Hits Indian Freighter
HONOLULU (AP) _ The captain of an Indian merchant says he was following a course given by the Navy and was advised he was out of the danger area 40 minutes before his ship was hit by a U.S. Navy practice missile, killing a crewman.
Navy officials said they could not confirm the captain’s account of the accident that occurred in the Navy’s Pacific Missile Range 80 miles north- northwest of the island of Kauai at about noon Monday.
″The missile range gave us a certain course to steer and (later) advised us we were clear of the area,″ said Capt. P.M. Mirchandani, 34, who brought the 550-foot Jag Vivek into port here Tuesday for repairs.
Lt. Cmdr. Gary Shrout, a spokesman for the Navy at Pearl Harbor, said the captain’s contention and ″everything about this thing will be investigated. It’ll take a while to put all the pieces together.″
An FA-18 ″Hornet″ attack fighter from the aircraft carrier USS Constellation fired a 12-foot unarmed Harpoon missile toward a target hulk ship many miles out to sea, the Navy said.
″Unfortunately the exercise missile was fired close enough to the path of the merchant vessel for the missile’s seeker to guide on it instead of the original target,″ the Navy said.
Attorney Leonard Alcantara, representing the ship’s owner, said the Jag Vivek was notified by radio at about 8 a.m. Monday it was in restricted waters of the Pacific Missile Range.
The Navy gave the ship a new course to get out of the area, and two or three hours later ″said the ship was clear and wished it ’Bon Voyage,‴ Alcantara said. ″Forty minutes later, the missile hit.″
Mirchandani said he believed ″it was the Navy’s mistake.″
When the missile was fired, the jet was about 45 miles from the freighter, too far away for it to see the ship, Shrout said.
The supersonic missile tore through the living quarters located near the top of the pilot house on the stern of the ship that is carrying 25,600 tons of wheat from Vancouver, B.C., to Bombay, officials said.
After exiting the structure, the missile fell into the ocean, according to the Coast Guard.
Shrout said the commander of Naval Base Pearl Harbor, Rear Adm. Stephen Chadwick, went aboard the Jag Vivek just before it reached Honolulu ″to express the Navy’s condolences to the master of the ship.″
The Constellation and seven other ships in its battle group were concluding training exercises en route to a Western Pacific deployment, the Navy said.
Several thousand square miles off the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai’s northwest coast are frequently closed to civilian vessels with advisories broadcast at set times each day on marine radio frequencies, according to the Coast Guard.
The missile hit a five-story pilot house on the ship’s left side, below a porthole in the radio room.
The impact collapsed part of the pilot house and killed radio operator K.T. Joseph, 36, an Indian citizen, the Navy said. An autopsy was to be performed Tuesday.
The Indian government declined comment on the accident.
The ship would remain here until it was decided whether the U.S. Navy would pay for repairs, which are expected to take about two weeks, said Coast Guard spokesman Scott Hartvigsen.
The ship is owned by the Great Eastern Shipping Co. Ltd. of New Delhi. Hawaii Pacific Maritime, its Hawaii marine agent, refused to release details of the incident pending a prelimininary investigation.