Navy investigation finds collisions at sea ‘avoidable’, blames crew

fitz Navy investigation finds collisions at sea avoidable, blames crew

Guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald off the Shimoda coast after it collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship on June 17, 2017.
(Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

By Matt Saintsing

After more than two months of investigation and the removal of several senior officers, the Navy is blaming the crews of two destroyers for the fatal crashes that left 17 sailors dead earlier this year.

The guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship in waters near Japan in June, killing seven sailors. In August, the collision between the John S. McCain, also a guided missile destroyer, and an oil tanker near Singapore left another 10 sailors dead.

“Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents, said Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson, in a statement.

“We must do better.”

With the Fitzgerald, the Navy determined both the crew and leadership failed to follow standards for safety, as well as practicing poor navigational procedures.

“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,” the statement reads.

In the case of the John S. McCain, the Navy says the “avoidable” crash resulted from “complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedural compliance.” Specifically, they claim the lack of knowledge of the ship’s control console was a main contributing factor.

They also slammed the McCain’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, who was relieved in October. In particular, the Navy said he disregarded recommendations from the ship’s executive officer, navigator, and senior watch officer, to ensure safe operation of the ship.

“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.”

Before the review was completed by Adm. Phil Davidson, the head of the Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., new guidance went out in September to Navy ships worldwide. The directions included more sleep, and sailors were told they could work no more than 100 hours a week.

“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,” said Richardson.

“We will spend every effort needed to correct these problems and be stronger than before.”

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