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Navy probe determines collisions were preventable

Dec 28, 2017

The Navy determined two fatal collisions this summer involving destroyers in the 7th Fleet were preventable, and an investigation identified fatigue and lapses in training, seamanship and communication aboard one or both warships.

Seven sailors died when the 728-foot ACX Crystal slammed into USS Fitzgerald on June 17 at 0130 in open water 56 miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. Two months later, 10 sailors died when the 600-foot tanker Alnic MC struck the destroyer USS John S. McCain east of Singapore near dawn. Both Navy ships are 505-foot Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said Navy warships will begin broadcasting their locations via automatic identification system, or AIS, during certain situations. He also promised additional training and a new oversight body to monitor 7th Fleet readiness. The Navy also will begin tracking and studying “close calls” at sea and plans to better manage crew fatigue.

Several senior leaders from the 7th Fleet also have been replaced as a result of the collisions.

The traffic situation when USS Fitzgerald collided with ACX Crystal off Japan.

Courtesy USN

According to the report, bridge crew aboard USS Fitzgerald spotted the Philippines-flagged ACX Crystal at least 20 minutes before the collision. A senior officer believed the containership would pass some 1,500 yards from the destroyer, despite concerns raised by a junior officer. The junior officer’s suggestion to slow down also was rejected.

Crystal’s bulbous bow punctured Fitzgerald’s hull below the waterline, flooding compartments where sailors were sleeping. The warship also sustained extensive damage above the waterline, including the commanding officer’s cabin.

The two ships never established radio contact, and the destroyer never sounded an alarm, the report noted. It also cited impacts from crew fatigue and command staff’s failure to ensure adequate rest.

A different set of mistakes led to the collision involving John S. McCain, which veered into tanker Alnic MC’s path. Shortly before the collision, McCain’s commanding officer split course and speed controls between two bridge crewmembers.

The move sowed confusion, and a helmsman believed the ship lost its steering, which caused the commanding officer to reduce speed. However, the helmsman initially pulled back only on the port shaft. Around this time, the rudder also moved to amidships from 1-4 degrees of right rudder.

The collision of USS John S. McCain with the tanker Alnic MC east of Singapore.

Courtesy USN

“The combination of the wrong rudder direction, and the two shafts working opposite to one another in this fashion caused an uncommanded turn to the left (port),” the report said.

Alnic struck the warship’s port quarter at about 0524. The tanker’s bulbous bow breached the Navy ship and allowed flooding in crew spaces. In addition to 10 deaths, 48 were hurt.

As per the report, causal factors in the McCain incident included loss of situational awareness among bridge crew, failure to follow “Rules of the Road” and crewmembers’ lack of knowledge about key steering and propulsion controls.

In the Fitzgerald collision the report cited failure to plan for safety, unsound navigation practice, insufficient watch-standing and failure to use available navigation tools.

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