Thursday, November 2, 2017

US Navy Vessel Collisions Causing 17 Deaths Lead to a Slew of Sackings of Top Brass

Report Scathing in its Criticism of Standards Aboard Stricken Warships
Shipping News Feature
US – The US Navy has released a report detailing the events and actions that led to the collision of the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan June 17, and the collision of USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and merchant vessel Alnic MC August 21, concluding that both incidents were avoidable. The two collisions resulted in the deaths of 17 American navy sailors, all of whom were posthumously promoted. Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson, said:

“Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents. We must do better. We are a Navy that learns from mistakes and the Navy is firmly committed to doing everything possible to prevent an accident like this from happening again. We must never allow an accident like this to take the lives of such magnificent young sailors and inflict such painful grief on their families and the nation.

“The vast majority of our sailors are conducting their missions effectively and professionally - protecting America from attack, promoting our interests and prosperity, and advocating for the rules that govern the vast commons from the sea floor to space and in cyberspace. This is what America expects and deserves from its Navy.

“Our culture, from the most junior sailor to the most senior Commander, must value achieving and maintaining high operational and warfighting standards of performance and these standards must be embedded in our equipment, individuals, teams and fleets. We will spend every effort needed to correct these problems and be stronger than before.”

History and Conclusions

USS Fitzgerald - The collision between Fitzgerald and NYK's 2,858 TEU container ship Crystal was avoidable and resulted from an accumulation of smaller errors over time, ultimately resulting in a lack of adherence to sound navigational practices. Specifically, Fitzgerald's watch teams disregarded established norms of basic contact management and, more importantly, leadership failed to adhere to well-established protocols put in place to prevent collisions. In addition, the ship's triad was absent during an evolution where their experience, guidance and example would have greatly benefited the ship.

USS John S. McCain - The collision between John S. McCain and the Liberian-flagged 30,000 gross tonne tanker, the Alnic MC, operated by Stealth Maritime Corporation, was also avoidable and resulted primarily from complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedural compliance.

A major contributing factor to the collision was sub-standard level of knowledge regarding the operation of the ship control console. In particular, McCain's commanding officer disregarded recommendations from his executive officer, navigator and senior watch officer to set sea and anchor watch teams in a timely fashion to ensure the safe and effective operation of the ship.

With regard to procedures, no one on the Bridge watch team, to include the commanding officer and executive officer, were properly trained on how to correctly operate the ship control console during a steering casualty.

The incidents led to a slew of dismissals. The US 7th Fleet commander at the time of the accidents, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, was relieved of his command on 23 August 2017 for ‘loss of confidence in his ability to command’. There had in fact been four such incidents in the year leading up to the John S. McCain affair. The USS Fitzgerald collision caused Commander Bryce Benson, Executive Officer Commander Sean Babbitt and Ship Command Master Chief Petty Officer Brice Baldwin to be relieved of shipboard duty on 17 August whilst around 12 other sailors received ’non judicial punishments’.

In the case of the John S. McCain debacle Rear Admiral Charles Williams, Commander Task Force 70, and Captain Jeffrey Bennett, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 15, were removed from their positions due to a loss of confidence in their ability to command and last month the commanding officer Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez and executive officer, Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez, were both relieved due to a loss of confidence in their abilities.

Photo: Damage to the starboard flank of the USS Fitzgerald’s hull following the collision.