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Court-martial exposes San Antonio program

NORFOLK, Va., Nov. 2 (UPI) -- A Navy prosecutor told a Norfolk, Va., court-martial that Lt. Cmdr. Sean Kearns was checking e-mail when a sailor under his command died in a small boat.

Kearns, executive officer of the amphibious transport dock ship San Antonio, is accused of negligence.

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The (Norfolk) Virginian Pilot said the proceeding is giving the San Antonio ship program another black eye. A 2007 internal Navy report introduced as evidence said the San Antonio, the first of its kind, remained "an unfinished ship" -- with 6,000 faulty welds, and loose bolts that caused the engines to misalign. The report said it deployed without 40 percent of the technical manuals usually found on board a ship.

The incident that brought on the court-martial occurred Feb. 4, 2009. Prosecutors allege Kearns did not ensure effective training or supervision of small boat operations when the amphibious transport dock ship was operating in the Gulf of Aden.

An 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boat with three sailors aboard was lowered to the water, but its engines failed to start and it flipped over. Two sailors were rescued, but Petty Officer 1st Class Theophilus Ansong, the small boat's engineer, apparently drowned. His body was never found, the newspaper said.

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The assistant defense counsel, Lt. Cmdr. Chris Czaplak, said the prosecution's case required a "leap of logic. How else to explain that an apparent mistake from a qualified enlisted sailor standing watch turned into the court-martial of the executive officer?"

The military lawyer said Kearns wasn't just checking his e-mail in his state room, he was checking messages related to the transfer of 100 Marines to another vessel, the disembarking of an admiral and task force staff from the ship and operations of the San Antonio's helicopter and two small boats.

Kearns faces a single charge of negligence, which carries a maximum sentence of three months confinement and forfeiture of pay.

Kearns' trial was expected to last all week.

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