USS Fitzgerald and MV ACX Crystal collision

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USS Fitzgerald and MV ACX Crystal collision
170617-N-XN177-155 damaged Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) in June 2017.JPG
USS Fitzgerald returns to base after the collision
Date 17 June 2017
Time about 1:30 a.m. JST
Location 56 nautical miles (104 kilometres; 64 miles) southwest of Yokosuka, Japan
Coordinates 34°32′N 139°05′E / 34.533°N 139.083°E / 34.533; 139.083Coordinates: 34°32′N 139°05′E / 34.533°N 139.083°E / 34.533; 139.083[1][2]
Casualties
7 deaths on USS Fitzgerald[3]
3 confirmed injuries[4]

Early on 17 June 2017, the United States Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with MV ACX Crystal, a Philippine-flagged container ship, about 80 nautical miles (150 kilometres; 92 miles) southwest of Tokyo, Japan;[3][4] 10 nautical miles (19 km; 12 mi) southeast of the city of Shimoda on the Japanese mainland (Honshu).[2]

The accident killed seven Fitzgerald sailors. Their bodies were recovered from the flooded berthing compartments of the ship.[5] At least three more of the crew of nearly 300 were injured, including the ship's commanding officer, Commander Bryce Benson.[4] The top two senior officers and the top enlisted sailor were relieved of duty and are facing criminal charges[6]; about a dozen other sailors will receive non-judicial punishment.

Synopsis of events[edit]

Course of MV ACX Crystal from 6/16/17 12:05 UTC to 6/17/17 3:00, showing presumptive point of collision with USS Fitzgerald at 16:30 UTC (1:30 a.m. Japan Time), south of Japanese mainland
Detail of the movements of ACX Crystal

In a report released on 1 November[7] the Navy describes Fitzgerald's course in the half-hour prior to the collision as running 190T (nearly due south), with a speed of 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph). At about 01:17 Fitzgerald's OOD (Officer of the Deck, responsible for the ship's course and maneuvering) misjudged the course of ACX Crystal. At 01:25 the OOD, Lt. j.g. Sarah Coppock,[8] noticed ACX Crystal getting closer, and ordered a turn to 240T (that is, to turn to the right and pass behind ACX Crystal), but then rescinded the order. Instead she "ordered an increase to full speed and a rapid turn to the left (port)" (to pass ahead of ACX Crystal), but "these orders were not carried out." At 01:29 the "Bosun Mate of the Watch, a more senior supervisor on the bridge, took over the helm and executed the orders."[9] The Navy has not said what those orders were, nor what transpired on the bridge following the collision at 01:30. Among other failings the Navy says "physical look out duties" were not performed on the starboard (right) side, where ACX Crystal and two other ships were approaching.

The collision damaged Fitzgerald's starboard (right) side, including a "large gash near the keel" in the hull below the waterline, according to the commander of the US Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin.[10] The container ship's bulbous bow penetrated the destroyer's hull below the waterline, flooding a machinery space, the radio room, and two crew berthing spaces with sea water.[11][12] The collision also destroyed the captain's cabin, according to VADM Aucoin.[12] Hours of damage control by Fitzgerald's crew kept the ship from sinking.[13]

The executive officer assumed command as the destroyer returned to port with the assistance of tugs, the destroyer USS Dewey, and the Japanese Coast Guard.[14][15][16][17]

The Japan Coast Guard and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force participated in the search-and-rescue operations, including evacuating CDR Benson by helicopter.[4][18] The other injured sailors were evacuated by US military helicopters.[4]

Although the collision occurred at night, the weather was clear. US and Japanese inquiries have begun to investigate the cause of the collision.[13]

Casualties[edit]

Seven fatalities were reported, all aboard Fitzgerald. The Navy identified them as:

  • Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia
  • Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California
  • Sonar Technician 3rd Class Tan Ngoc Huynh Truong,[19] 25, from Oakville, Connecticut
  • Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas
  • Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California
  • Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland
  • Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio[20]

Three other sailors aboard Fitzgerald were injured, including the captain.

On 11 July, Fitzgerald's captain, Commander Bryce Benson, was temporarily relieved of command by Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, commodore, Destroyer Squadron 15, while Cmdr. Benson recuperated from injuries sustained in the collision. Cmdr. John Fay assumed temporary duties as Fitzgerald's commanding officer.[21]

Discrepancies about the time of collision[edit]

The time of the collision was unclear at first, but in the days after the collision a time of 01:30 was generally accepted. On 19 June (Japan Standard Time)—two days after the collision—the Japan Coast Guard and Nippon Yusen (NYK Line), ACX Crystal's operator, said, after further investigation, the collision was at about 01:30. At this time, ACX Crystal made a sudden turn, according to Automatic Identification System (AIS) data. (US Navy ships frequently turn off their AIS to preserve operational security.[22]) The US Navy initially said the event was at 02:20, when AIS data showed the cargo ship returning to the same area where it had turned earlier, and five minutes before the event was reported to the Japan Coast Guard by ACX Crystal at 02:25. On Monday, the US Navy said "all aspects of this incident" were under investigation and declined to comment on the discrepancy.[23][24] On 20 June, the Navy said it was "not disputing" the Japanese Coast Guard and ACX Crystal's captain's timeline, adding later that the Navy would not comment again on the time of the collision until after its investigation was complete.[25][26] In the Navy's report released on 1 November the time of the collision is given as 01:30:34.[7]

NYK Line was unable to provide information on what happened between the time of the collision and the report.[24] The Japan Coast Guard is investigating whether the collision was reported promptly.[23]

Right-of-way rules[edit]

As the impact was on starboard side of Fitzgerald, the rules of the sea suggest Fitzgerald failed to give way as required, but there are possible complicating factors that may result in a different conclusion, such as if one of the vessels was overtaking the other, or other ships in the immediate vicinity created a special situation.[27][28]

ACX Crystal's behavior[edit]

Fitzgerald moves into dry dock on 11 July 2017

After hitting Fitzgerald, ACX Crystal continued on course for 30 minutes, then returned to the collision location. Afterwards, she resumed her original course.[29] Investigators are seeking to understand why Fitzgerald's crew and sensor systems do not seem to have detected ACX Crystal in time to avoid the incident.[29] ACX Crystal's captain, in a report to the ship's owner seen by Reuters, said that Fitzgerald continued sailing on a collision course despite ACX Crystal signalling with flashing lights the imminent danger. The US Navy did not comment on the report.[30]

Damage to USS Fitzgerald[edit]

A detailed view of the damage to Fitzgerald. A patch has been welded over the below waterline damage. Image taken while in dry dock on 11 July 2017

The Navy initially said Fitzgerald is repairable and will be back in service within twelve months.[13] A few days later, Navy officials said the superstructure, damaged in the collision, may actually be warped, which could have created misalignment problems for the AN/SPY-1 radar, which was also damaged on the starboard side. Flooding extended to a main engineering space and radio central, destroying equipment worth millions of dollars.[31] As at 30 June, the Navy expected to be able to put her in drydock between 6 and 8 July. With the need for a new dry dock plan, the damage caused to the hull by the collision could delay the process.[31] Fitzgerald entered a dry dock in Yokosuka on 11 July, in order for the Navy to evaluate the extent of the damage to Fitzgerald before deciding whether to repair the ship in Japan or back in the United States.[21] An analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments said the repairs could not be done overseas, and the dry dock inspection is mainly to determine if the ship can return to a private shipyard in the US under its own power, or, more likely, must be carried back on a heavy-lift ship.[31] The costs for the repair are expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars.[32] Fitzgerald was scheduled to undergo a planned modernization in 2019, but it is yet unclear if the timeline for that will be affected by the repairs.[32]

In late August 2017, it was reported that the destroyer will be transported by the Dockwise heavy-lift ship MV Transshelf to Huntington Ingalls Industriesshipyard in Pascagoula.[33][34][35] On 28 November 2017, the destroyer was further damaged by two punctures to its hull during the loading process to the MV Transshelf.[36]

Investigations[edit]

Within a day of the collision, investigations were begun by the United States Navy, US Coast Guard, Japan Coast Guard, Japan Transport Safety Board, and ACX Crystal's insurers. The US Navy is conducting an internal inquiry of its crew operations, led by Rear Admiral Brian Fort, former commander of Gonzalez and the present commander of Navy Region Hawaii and commander of Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific.[5][37][38] The US and Japanese coast guards are investigating the cause of the accident.[25] On 22 June, Japanese investigators said they had the cargo ship's data recorder.[26]

Preliminary findings suggest the accident was caused by multiple errors by Fitzgerald's crew and a failure to take action in the minutes leading up to the collision, two unnamed US defense officials told CNN.[39]

A US Navy official said, off the record, that since the warship had sovereign immunity, the US Navy would not allow crew members of Fitzgerald to be interviewed by officials from other countries. The United States Coast Guard is instead expected to provide summaries to the Japan Transport Safety Board (JTSB), which will share them with local investigators.[40]

On 17 August 2017, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William Moran announced that Commander Bryce Benson, Executive Officer Commander Sean Babbitt and Ship Command Master Chief Petty Officer Brice Baldwin are to be relieved of shipboard duty, and close to a dozen other sailors will receive non-judicial punishment. Moran stated that "serious mistakes" were made by the "bridge team" (those conducting safety watch on board the ship's bridge) which caused them to lose "situational awareness," thus rendering it impossible to avoid the collision even after the container ship had already been sighted.[41]

On 23 August 2017, commander of the US Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, was dismissed a few weeks before his planned retirement date following four collisions within a year involving Seventh Fleet warships.[42] On 18 September 2017, the new commander of the US Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Phillip Sawyer, as part of the investigations into four surface ship incidents involving Navy ships in the Western Pacific in 2017, including the collision involving Fitzgerald, ordered that Rear Admiral Charles Williams, Commander, Task Force 70 (CTF 70)/Carrier Strike Group 5, and Captain Jeffrey Bennett, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 15, be removed from their positions due to a loss of confidence in their ability to command.[43]

On 16 January 2018, the Navy announced that hearings would be convened to consider bringing criminal charges of dereliction of duty resulting in death, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide against Commander Bryce Benson and three junior officers on duty at the time of the collision.[44] Non-judicial administrative punishment actions were in progress against four additional Fitzgerald crew members.

On 8 May 2018, the U.S. Navy commenced court proceedings for four of the destroyer's officers. Junior officer Lt. j.g. Sarah Coppock pleaded guilty to a single criminal charge of "dereliction in the performance of duties through neglect contributing to the deaths" for her role in the collision. Coppock was the officer of the deck when Fitzgerald collided with ACX Crystal. As part of a plea arrangement, Coppock was sentenced to receive a letter of reprimand and three months of half-pay.[8][45] During the court procedings, it was revealed that the radar aboard the ship was not functioning properly at the time of the collision.[46]

Ships involved[edit]

USS Fitzgerald[edit]

Fitzgerald is a Flight I Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. Built at Bath Iron Works in Maine, the ship was commissioned into the US Navy on 14 October 1995. Since September 2004, Fitzgerald has operated from the US Yokosuka base in Japan, as part of Destroyer Squadron 15 attached to Carrier Strike Group 5, a unit of the US Seventh Fleet.

MV ACX Crystal[edit]

ACX Crystal is a container ship owned by the Olympic Steamship Co SA, Panama. Built by STX Offshore & Shipbuilding at Changwon, South Korea, the ship entered service in August 2008. ACX Crystal has been employed for use by ACX, a subsidiary of NYK Line, on shipping routes between Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "USS Fitzgerald crash: Seven navy crew missing off Japan". BBC News. 17 June 2017. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  2. ^ a b Voytenko, Mikhail (17 June 2017), "USS Fitzgerald collision with boxship ACX CRYSTAL, Japan", Maritime Bulletin
  3. ^ a b "Seven sailors missing in ship collision found dead". The Hill. 17 June 2017. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e Lendon, Brad; Wakatsuki, Yoko; Sterling, Joe (17 June 2017). "Search is on for 7 missing US sailors, cause of ship collision off Japan". CNN.com.
  5. ^ a b Shane, Scott (23 June 2017). "Maritime Mystery: Why a U.S. Destroyer Failed to Dodge a Cargo Ship". New York Times. Retrieved 24 June 2017.
  6. ^ Ex-commanders face negligent homicide charges over deadly Navy collisions
  7. ^ a b "Memorandum for Distribution" (PDF). Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. Department of the Navy. 23 October 2017. Retrieved 9 May 2018. Lay summary.
  8. ^ a b Martinez, Luis (8 May 2018). "USS Fitzgerald officer pleads guilty to role in deadly collision". ABC News. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
  9. ^ The bosun mate of the watch is usually a senior enlisted person, usually a chief petty officer, who generally has more experience than most junior officers. It is not clear why the report refers to the BMOW as a "more senior supervisor".
  10. ^ "U.S. Navy identifies 7 sailors who died in destroyer collision", CBS News, 18 June 2017
  11. ^ "Seven sailors missing in ship collision found dead". The Hill. 17 June 2017. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  12. ^ a b Shane, Scott (18 June 2017). "Sleeping Sailors on U.S.S. Fitzgerald Awoke to a Calamity at Sea". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 June 2017.
  13. ^ a b c "U.S. destroyer almost foundered after collision, bodies found: Seventh Fleet". Reuters. 18 June 2017.
  14. ^ Simpkins, Jon; Larter, David (16 June 2017). "7 U.S. sailors missing after USS Fitzgerald's catastrophic collision". Navy Times. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  15. ^ LaGrone, Sam (16 June 2017). "7 Sailors Missing, CO Injured After Destroyer USS Fitzgerald Collided with Philippine Merchant Ship". USNI News. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  16. ^ "コンテナ船と米海軍イージス駆逐艦が衝突 静岡 石廊崎沖" [Container ship and US Navy Aegis destroyer collide off Cape Iro, Shizuoka Prefecture]. NHK (in Japanese). 17 June 2017. Archived from the original on 17 June 2017. Retrieved 17 June 2017.
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  19. ^ "JPEG Image". Reddit. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
  20. ^ "Navy identifies USS Fitzgerald sailors found dead after crash". Fox News.
  21. ^ a b LaGrone, Sam (11 July 2017). "USS Fitzgerald Commander Temporarily Relieved; Destroyer Enters Dry Dock". USNI News. U.S. Naval Institute. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
  22. ^ Gallagher, Sean (17 June 2017). ""Internet of Ships" tells tale of USS Fitzgerald tragedy—or half of it". Ars Technica. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
  23. ^ a b Inoue, Makiko (19 June 2017), "Japan Says Deadly Ship Collision Happened Earlier Than Reported", The New York Times
  24. ^ a b Jacobo, Julia (19 June 2017), "What we know about Navy destroyer's deadly collision with a container ship in Japan", ABC News
  25. ^ a b Rich, Motoko (19 June 2017). "As Sailors' Bodies Are Flown to U.S., Fitzgerald Inquiries Intensify". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 June 2017.
  26. ^ a b "Investigators Obtain Data Recorder in US Warship Collision", The New York Times, The Associated Press, 22 June 2017, retrieved 28 June 2017
  27. ^ Kelly, J.F., Jr. (22 June 2017). "USS Fitzgerald: no sailor should die because of preventable human error". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  28. ^ Stashwick, Steven (20 June 2017). "The Crash of the USS Fitzgerald: What Happened and What Comes Next?". The Diplomat. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  29. ^ a b Shane, Scott (23 June 2017). "Maritime Mystery: Why a U.S. Destroyer Failed to Dodge a Cargo Ship". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 June 2017.
  30. ^ Kelly, Tim (2017). "Exclusive: U.S. warship stayed on deadly collision course despite warning - container ship captain". Reuters. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  31. ^ a b c Larter, David B. "Navy struggles with approach to fix crippled destroyer Fitzgerald, as investigation continues". Defense News. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
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  33. ^ "Huntington Ingalls Industries Selected to Repair Guided Missile Destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62)". Huntington Ingalls Industries. 23 August 2017. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
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  39. ^ Prine, Carl (21 July 2017). "Early findings put blame on Navy crew for deadly Fitzgerald collision, sources say". The San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 22 July 2017.
  40. ^ Kelly, Tim (30 June 2017). "U.S. Likely to Bar Japan Investigators From Interviewing Warship Crew, Official Says". Reuters. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  41. ^ Burns, Robert (17 August 2017). "Senior officer on USS Fitzgerald to be relieved of command after fatal collision". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 17 August 2017.
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  43. ^ LaGrone, Sam (18 September 2017). "Admiral, Captain Removed in Ongoing Investigations into USS John S. McCain, USS Fitzgerald Collisions; Head of Surface Forces Puts in Early Retirement Request". USNI News. U.S. Naval Institute. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  44. ^ "U.S. Navy Statement on USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain Consolidated Disposition Authority Accountability Actions". U.S. Navy. 16 January 2018. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
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  46. ^ Lamothe, Dan (16 May 2018). "Navy 'callous' in how it describes deadly USS Fitzgerald collision, attorneys allege". The Washington Post. Retrieved 25 May 2018.

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