April 9, 1981                                                                                                                                        110 miles south-southwest of Sasebo, Japan

The USS GEORGE WASHINGTON collides with the 2,350-ton Japanese freighter NISSHO MARU. As the submarine is surfacing, it runs into the underside of the freighter, damages its hull and causes it to sink in 15 minutes, killing two of the 13 crew of the freighter. The WASHINGTON suffers minor damage to a small section of its sail. The accident sparks a political furor in Japan, straining US-Japanese relations a month before a meeting between Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki and US President Reagan. The US is criticized because it took over 24 hours to notify Japanese authorities; the submarine and a US P-3 aircraft overhead did not make a rescue attempt, and the submarine was operating so close to Japan, less than 20 miles outside the 12-mile limit. The US Navy initially says the submarine surfaced but could not see any ship in distress due to fog and rain. On April 11, President Reagan and other US officials express regret over the accident, make offers of compensation and reassure the Japanese there is no cause for worry about radioactive contamination. Over the next several months as the controversy continues, the US Navy accepts responsibility to preclude lengthy litigation; is criticized for its preliminary report which says the submarine and the P-3 claimed not to have realized the freighter was sinking; and relieves and reprimands the commanding officer and officer of the deck of the submarine. On August 31, the Navy releases a final report which concludes the accident resulted from highly coincidental set of circumstances, compound by errors on the part of some members of the crew of the GEORGE WASHINGTON


Nishu Maru Crash

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