USS Fitzgerald – Stop, Analyze, Dissect And Let’s Figure Out What Went Wrong

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, damaged by colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel, is towed by a tugboat upon its arrival at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, Japan June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

by CW4 Michael W. Carr, US Army Watercraft Master (Ret)

As a former instructor I taught cadets, midshipman, and merchant mariners for over 15 years during my various tenures at Maine Maritime, Kings Point, and MITAGS. And I sailed on my Merchant Mariner and Army Mariners License for many more years. 
 
When you know your skill, and you know your trade, you don’t protest when something goes wrong. You stop, analyze, review, dissect, figure out what went wrong, where you failed, where your team failed, where equipment failed. You then take corrective action. Fix the problem, retrain yourself and your team. Practice these new skills over and over until they become muscle memory.
 
You do not lash out, and you do not become defensive. You stand tall, accept the facts and drive on. So much protesting from the Navy, and maybe from the Merchant Marine, indicates people and organizations realize they have not been holding up the standards of their profession. They know this horrible accident occurred due to human error…a combination of an autopilot with no one on the bridge, or Navy deck officers not really knowing or being able to stand a confident deck watch. Maybe a culture these days where there is too much emphasis on process and not results. 
 
We have AIS, ECDIS, Radar, etc to assist deck officers. How much more technology could we possibly cram on a bridge? We also have VHF radios, where you can make a call on CH 13 directly to another ship and talk to another deck watch officer and make an agreement. Direct individual responsibility. Do we allow our deck officers to do this? Or are we so risk adverse and so encumbered by corporate restrictions that we no longer train and support credible, seasoned and salty Deck Officers?
 
Regardless of how much vessel traffic exists, or how many background lights exist, or state of visibility, etc, a deck watch officer should be trained to successfully stand a watch. Most of us who have been at sea have sailed through fog, night, storms, high-density traffic, currents, rain, sandstorms, etc and done so successfully. That is what we do, that is what we are bound to do. If you call yourself a mariner, then you don’t have collisions with other vessels. Period. You cannot make excuses. If you cannot stand a competent watch, then don’t assume the watch.
 
Michael W. Carr is a graduate of the US Coast Guard Academy and served in the US Coast Guard and US Army Watercraft Field. Carr holds a Masters Degree in  Unconventional Warfare & Special Operations from American Military University. He is a former US Navy Diving  & Salvage Officer and is the author of “Weather Predicting Simplified: How to Read Weather Charts and Satellite Images”, McGraw Hill International.