Two US Navy collisions that killed 17 sailors 'avoidable'

A report on the official investigation into two separate collisions between US Navy ships and private commercial craft says the crashes were avoidable and the result of a string of human errors.

WASHINGTON • Two collisions between US Navy destroyers and commercial vessels in the Western Pacific earlier this year were "avoidable" and the result of a string of crew and basic navigational errors, according to Admiral John Richardson, the chief of naval operations.

The navy's top officer was due to make public its conclusions on the two accidents yesterday.

Seven sailors were killed in June when the destroyer Fitzgerald collided with a container ship near Japan. The collision in August of the John S. McCain - another destroyer, named after Senator John McCain's father and grandfather - and an oil tanker while approaching Singapore left 10 sailors dead.

In the case of the Fitzgerald, the navy determined in its latest reports that the crew and leadership on board failed to plan for safety, to adhere to sound navigation practices, to carry out basic watch practices, to properly use available navigation tools, and to respond effectively in a crisis.

"Many of the decisions made that led to this incident were the result of poor judgment and decision-making of the commanding officer," the report concluded.

"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."

In the case of the John S. McCain, the investigation concluded that the collision resulted from "a loss of situational awareness" while responding to mistakes in the operation of the ship's steering and propulsion system while in highly trafficked waters.

"The collisions were avoidable," Adm Richardson said in a summary of the two reports.

The new commander of the US Seventh Fleet, Vice-Admiral Phil Sawyer, said last month that operational demands were so high that not enough emphasis was placed on its crew's preparation and training.

"I think, over time, the balance shifted too much to the operational side, and not enough to making sure that our teams were rested, were trained, were able to go do the things we were asking them to do," he said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2017, with the headline 'Two US Navy collisions that killed 17 sailors 'avoidable''. Print Edition | Subscribe