- Toru Hanai/Reuters
- The USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain both collided with civilian ships in the summer of 2017.
- In all 17 sailors died and both warships were heavily damaged.
- The Navy is filing negligent homicide charges against former high ranking officers who were deemed responsible for the attack.
A year after the collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain, the Navy has announced that the commanding officers of the guided missile destroyers will face courts-martial and negligent homicide charges.
The two collisions resulted in the deaths of 17 sailors and severe damage to both Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
The Navy relieved a number of high ranking officers in the immediate aftermath of the collisions, including the commanding and executive officers of both the Fitzgerald and McCain, the head of the Japan-based Destroyer Squadron 15, and the head of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet in Japan.
Reports emerged this week that the Navy’s top surface warfare officer, Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, will resign amidst the charges.
Here’s what happened during the two crashes:
- US Navy
The Fitzgerald collided with the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal container ship on June 17, 2017 in the waters just outside of Sagami Bay.
The impact lead to the deaths of seven sailors – aged 19 to 37 years old – and damaged the Fitzgerald’s berthing compartments, where sailors sleep which are below the waterline of the ship.
After minor repairs in Japan, the ship sustained more damage after being loaded on the MV Transshelf, a heavy-lift vessel that was meant to take it to a Huntington Ignalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
In an unclassified report, the Navy blamed “numerous failures” that “occured on the part of leadership and watchstanders.”
These included 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, and failure to respond deliberately and effectively when in extremis.
- US Navy
USS John S. McCain
The McCain collided with the Liberian-flagged oil tanker ALNIC MC on August 21, 2017, while sailing in the Straits of Singapore, at the south end of the Straits of Malacca.
Like the Fitzgerald, the McCain suffered damage to its berthing compartments, resulting in the deaths of 10 sailors.
Initial reports were that the bodies of 8 of the sailors were missing, but 8 days later, all bodies had been found.
In the same report released by the Navy for the Fitzgerald, the accident was blamed on “loss of situational awareness in response to mistakes” while the McCain was sailing in an area with a high density of maritime traffic, “failure to follow the International Nautical Rules of the Road,” and on “insufficient proficiency and knowledge” of steering and propulsion systems by Watchstanders.
In all, 48 sailors were injured, with wounds including broken bones, lacerations, and burns. In the Berthing 5 compartment, only two out of 12 sailors were able to escape the flooding.
Reports suggested that sailors thought their vessel had come under a cyber attack, but an investigation found no evidence of such an attack, and attributed the collision to confusion.
Christopher Woody and David Choi contributed reporting to this story.