HONOLULU -- An Indian merchant vessel that was hit by an unarmed Navy training missile limped Tuesday into Honolulu Harbor and was boarded by a U.S. admiral offering condolences who was met with cold stares from the crew.
The ship's radio operator, K.T. Joseph, 36, was killed by the Harpoon missile, which Monday ripped through the superstructure of the vessel Jag Vivek. The ship apparently had strayed into a military training area northwest of the Hawaiian island of Kauai, officials said.
Adm. Stephen K. Chadwick, the Pearl Harbor Naval Base commander, went aboard the Jag Vivek upon its arrival to inspect the damage and offer condolences to the remaining 32 crewmen, Navy spokesman Dick Brady said.
'He spoke to the captain and told him they were very sorry for the incident,' added Coast Guard spokesman Scott Hartvigsen. Asked what the attitude of the crew was, he said: 'Their attitude was a bit cold.'
Capt. P.M. Mirchandani, captain of the Jag Vivek for 11 months, said he was on the bridge when the missile struck. 'I felt like I was hit,' he said. 'I just heard a loud noise and saw splinters flying off on deck.
'I feel what happened should have not happened,' Mirchandani said, but he emphasized that he was not angry, 'just sad. I feel very bad that I lost my radio officer,' who had a wife and a 4-year-old daughter.
The non-explosive Harpoon missile was launched at about noon local time (5 p.m. EST) by a Navy FA-18 from the aircraft carrier USS Constellation toward a target hulk ship far out at sea, the Pearl Harbor Naval Base said in a statement.
'Unfortunately, the exercise missile veered close enough to the path of the vessel for the missile's seeker to guide on it instead of the original target,' the Navy statement said.
Leonard Alcantara, a lawyer for the ship's owners, Great Eastern Shipping Corp., Ltd., of Bombay, India, said the vessel was en route from Vancouver with 25,200 metric tons of wheat, bound for Madras, India, via Singapore.
The accident took place within an area of several thousand miles of ocean that had been closed to all merchant vessels by a 'Notice to Mariners' issued Dec. 8 by the Navy, Navy officials said.
As the Jag Vivek pulled up to the pier under its own power, escorted by a Navy vessel, the holes where the missile entered and exited were clearly visible in the white superstructure.
The missile entered on the port side through the radio room just below the conning deck, the wheel house, and exited toward the bow of the vessel and splintered into pieces. It went through the main radio room and the radio officer's stateroom, Alcantara said.
After traveling through the radio room it blasted a hole out the front port side of the bulwark, leaving twisted metal extending about a foot and a half from the 3-foot-wide hole.
It then apparently struck one of the large yellow cranes in the center of the ship and bounced off, leaving a wide goove on the crane.
'The ship will be repaired here and the body will be flown back to India as soon as possible,' said Mrs. David Watumull, Honolulu consul general of India. She said she expected the Navy to pay for the costs of repair.