U.S. Navy Releases Investigation Report on ‘Preventable’ USS Fitzgerald and USS John S McCain Collisions

The fatal collisions involving two U.S. Navy destroyers in the Seventh Fleet’s Area of Responsibility this year could have been prevented, the Navy said in a collision report released Wednesday.

The Navy released today the 71-page report detailing the events and actions that led to the separate fatal collisions involving the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) with commercial vessels.

Three U.S. Navy investigations concerning each of these incidents are now complete, the Navy said.

The USS Fitzgerald collided with the containership ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan on June 17, resulting in the deaths of seven Navy sailors. In a separate collision, the USS John S. McCain collided with the tanker Alnic MC after entering the Singapore Strait Traffic Separation Scheme on August 21. The accident resulted in the deaths of 10 Navy sailors.

Related: U.S. Navy Orders Back-to-Basics Reforms After Deadly Collisions

“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.”

Already as a result of the collisions, the Navy has dismissed a number of high-ranking officers, including the commanders of both destroyers as well as the commander of the Seventh Fleet.

The incidents are among a list of four serious accidents involving U.S. Navy surface fleet ships operating in the Seventh Fleet this year.

The Navy report said a Coast Guard Marine Casualty Investigation into the Fitzgerald and McCain incidents is also being conducted independently on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the results of which will be released by the NTSB when complete. 

Read the Report: Collision Report for USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain Collisions (pdf)

Below are the summaries of each incident provided by the U.S. Navy:

USS FITZGERALD COLLISION

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, June 17, 2017. U.S. Navy Photo

“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.”

uss fitzgerald collision track
Illustration of Approximate Collision Location. Credit: U.S. Navy

Summary of Findings (copied from the report)

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 JOHN S. MCCAIN COLLISION

john s. mccain
Tugboats from Singapore assist the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) as it 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 on Aug. 21. U.S. Navy Photo

“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.”

USS John S. McCain Collision track
Illustration of Approximate Collision Location. Credit: U.S. Navy

Summary of Findings (copied from the report)

  • 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.

CNO Adm. John Richardson comments: 

“We are a Navy that learns from mistakes and the Navy is firmly committed to doing everything possible to prevent an accident like this from happening again. 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.

“The vast majority of our Sailors are conducting their missions effectively and professionally – protecting America from attack, promoting our interests and prosperity, and advocating for the rules that govern the vast commons from the sea floor to space and in cyberspace. This is what America expects and deserves from its Navy.

“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.

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

The investigation report noted that collisions at sea between U.S. registered vessels and foreign registered vessels are also subject to an additional investigation, a Marine Casualty Investigation, conducted independently on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) by the United States Coast Guard (USCG). These investigations are ongoing and in each case the results of each will be published by the NTSB when complete, the Navy said. 

 

Read the Report: Collision Report for USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain Collisions