SMART4SEA Conference & Awards
2018
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SMART4SEA Conference & Awards
2018
Learn More

US Navy: Lack of compliance lead to warships’ collisions

collisions
Damage to the portside is visible as the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers towards Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore, following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore / Credit: US Navy / Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton

The US Navy released a report detailing the events and actions that led to the collision of USS Fitzgerald and ACX Crystal, off Japan on 17 June, and the collision of USS John S. McCain and merchant vessel Alnic MC, on 21 August. The report concludes that both incidents were avoidable and resulted from lack of procedural compliance. 

“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. “We must do better…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.”

USS FITZGERALD

USS FITZGERALD collided with Motor Vessel ACX CRYSTAL on 17 June 2017 in the waters of Sagami Wan, in vicinity of the approaches to Tokyo Wan, and resulted in the deaths of seven U.S. Sailors due to impact with FITZGERALD’s berthing compartments, located below the waterline of the ship. CRYSTAL suffered no fatalities. 

The collision between Fitzgerald and 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.

The Navy determined that numerous failures occurred on the part of leadership and watchstanders as follows:

  • Failure to plan for safety.
  • Failure to adhere to sound navigation practice.
  • Failure to execute basic watch standing practices.
  • Failure to properly use available navigation tools.
  • Failure to respond deliberately and effectively when in extremis.

USS Fitzgerald returning to Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka after the collision / Credit: U.S. Navy, photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart

USS JOHN S. MCCAIN

USS JOHN S MCCAIN collided with Motor Vessel ALNIC MC on 21 August 2017 in the Straits of Singapore and resulted in the deaths of 10 U.S.
Sailors due to impact with MCCAIN’s berthing compartments, located below the waterline of the ship. ALNIC suffered no fatalities.

The collision between John S. McCain and Alnic MC 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.

Namely, the Navy determined the following causes of the collision:

  • Loss of situational awareness in response to mistakes in the operation of the JOHN S MCCAIN’s steering and propulsion system, while in the presence of a high density of maritime traffic.
  • Failure to follow the International Nautical Rules of the Road, a system of rules to govern the maneuvering of vessels when risk of collision is present.
  • Watchstanders operating the JOHN S MCCAIN’s steering and propulsion systems had insufficient proficiency and knowledge of the systems.

“In the Navy, the responsibility of the Commanding Officer for his or her ship is absolute. Many of the decisions made that led to this incident were the result of poor judgment and decision making of the Commanding Officer. That said, no single person bears full responsibility for this incident. The crew was unprepared for the situation in which they found themselves through a lack of preparation, ineffective command and control, and deficiencies in training and preparations for navigation,” said the report referring to both accidents.

Further information may be found by reading the full report:

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