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
By Idrees Ali
WASHINGTON, Aug 17 (Reuters) – About a dozen U.S. sailors are expected to face punishment for a collision in June between the USS Fitzgerald and a Philippines cargo ship, including the warship’s commanding officer and other senior leaders of the ship, the Navy said on Thursday.
Admiral Bill Moran, deputy chief of naval operations, told reporters the ship’s commanding officer, executive officer and master chief petty officer would be removed from the vessel because “we’ve lost trust and confidence in their ability to lead.”
Moran said that in total close to a dozen sailors would face administrative punishment and left open the possibility for further action.
Multiple U.S. and Japanese investigations are under way into how the USS Fitzgerald, a guided missile destroyer, and the much larger ACX Crystal container ship collided in clear weather south of Tokyo Bay in the early hours of June 17.
The Navy also released a report that provided new details of the crash and its aftermath.
Note: The report reviews the crew’s damage control activities, the nature and extent of injuries to the crew and efforts to provide medical care to the critically injured, along with details regarding assistance provided by other vessels, diving activities and the ship’s return to port in Yokosuka. It is seperate from ongoing investigations into the collision between Fitzgerald and ACX Crystal.
The collision tore a gash below the Fitzgerald’s waterline, killing seven sailors in what was the greatest loss of life on a U.S. Navy vessel since the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen’s Aden harbor in 2000.
The report said the collision at 1:30 am local time sent water pouring into the U.S. warship.
“Water on deck,” sailors in a berthing started yelling. “Get out,” they shouted as mattresses, furniture and even an exercise bicycle began to float.
Within 60 seconds, the berthing was completely flooded. More than two dozen of the 35 sailors in it escaped. The last sailor to be rescued was in the bathroom at the time of the collision.
“Lockers were floating past him… at one point he was pinned between the lockers and the ceiling of Berthing 2, but was able to reach for a pipe in the ceiling to pull himself free,” the report said.
Two sailors stayed at the foot of the ladder in the compartment to help others escape.
“The choices made by these two sailors likely saved the lives of at least two of their shipmates,” the report says.
The commanding officer was trapped in his cabin, and five sailors used a sledgehammer to break through the door.
“Even after the door was open, there was a large amount of debris and furniture against the door, preventing anyone from entering or exiting easily,” the report said.
The sailors tied themselves together with a belt and rescued the commanding officer, who by this point was hanging from the side of the ship. (Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and James Dalgleish)
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