That illicit lobster feast to which the officers and crew of the USS Petrel treated themselves in the Atlantic last August is giving the Navy heartburn.

A naval investigator has recommended that the ship's former top two officers be charged on four general counts related to the pilfering of a Rhode Island lobsterman's catch and gear.

The recommendations included larceny (of gear), violation of federal law (theft of shellfish), concealment and violation of a general order (taking the Petrel from its assigned mission).

According to the investigators' report, obtained by the Washington Post, the Petrel's former captain, Cmdr Eugene A. Haselman, and Lt. Michael H. Tavares, its executive officer at the time, directed and approved the poaching maneuver.

Haselman and Tavares, who were relieved routinely of their command with Navy praise in February, have been assigned military lawyers and will undergo a formal inquiry this month as a prelude to possible courts-martial.

The formal inquiry, akin to a civilian grand jury investigation, stems from the recommendation that each man be charged in connection with Operation Big Claw.

The Petrel, a submarine rescue ship based in Charleston, S.C., and its crew of 105 spent several hours last August plundering traps owned by Karl R. Ek, about 100 miles off the Rhode Island-Connecticut coast.

The Article 32 investigation, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, will be held sometime this month in Charleston to determine if the Navy will press the case - and how - against the two officers.

Lobsterman Ek said that a Navy claims official had contacted him and indicated the government's willingness to compensate him for lost lobsters, ruined gear and his time.

Ek said he calculated that his claim would be for about $15,000, but that he was concerned the Navy might pay him only for one trawl - a string of 50 lobster pots. Ek said he los two trawls.

The Navy investigator's report, based on photographs taken by the Petrel's crew, testimony of crewmen and pieces of Ek's gears left on broad the vessel, indicates that two of his trawls were pulled from the ocean and emptied.

Sworn statements from Petrel crewmen said tha Ek's gear was thrown back into the sea on order of Cmdr. Haselman after the sailors had plucked about 90 lobsters from the traps and sent them to the gallery for that evening's meal.

After the incident, the Petrel continued on its mission. It returned to its home port. Charleston, in November at the conclusion of its classified mission.

A formal complaint about the lobster foray was made to the Navy and an investigation began. Haselman was to have received the Meritorious Service Medal at a change-of-command ceremony in February, but that recommendation was withdrawn.

The investigatro's report said that lobsters - about 90, by the estimate of the ship's cook - lobstering gear were stolen by the crew with the "approval and prior knowledge" of Haselman and Tavares.

Buoys from the trawl lines were left on board the Petrel and, from their markings, were traced back to Karl Ek, who knen his gear had disappeared on Aug. 19 - although he had no idea it was taken by the Petrel until he was approached by investigators.

According to the report, Haselman was on the bridge when the first of Ek's buoys was sighted. Tavares, wearing radio headphones, directed the ship's movement in on the trawl lines from a position on deck, it said. A seaman was posted to alert the officers if another ship approached.

Crewmen told the Navy that the lobsters were being carried to the petrel's gallery for preparation as part of the evening meal. But as the volume of the catch increased, lobsters were passed directly through a porthole on the deck into the gallery.

While the crewmen were pulling Ek's lobsters on board, the report said, Haselman was in the petty officer's mess, playing cards.

At that point, the report said, a crewman entered and exclaimed, "Man, are we making a haul back there." The captain reportedly "became very angry, threw his cards dowb" and went on deck, where he instructed the crew to put the lobster pots back as they were.

With the marker buoys and hundreds of feet of line gone, Ek recovered nothing. It could not be learned whether the lobsters were served boiled, baked or a la Newburg.