Ex-US Navy officers face negligent homicide charges over ship collisions, including USS John S. McCain incident

The commanding officer of the USS John S. McCain guided missile destroyer, which collided with a merchant ship near Singapore in August, faces possible charges of dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide.
The commanding officer of the USS John S. McCain guided missile destroyer, which collided with a merchant ship near Singapore in August, faces possible charges of dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS,NYTIMES) - The commanding officers of two US Navy destroyers involved in deadly collisions last year in the Pacific Ocean face courts-martial and military criminal charges including negligent homicide, the US Navy said in a statement on Tuesday (Jan 16).

Filing charges against the officers marks the Navy's latest effort to address the problems that led to collisions involving its warships in Asia, in which 17 sailors were killed.

The Navy has already dismissed several senior officers, including the commander of the Seventh Fleet, as a result of the collisions.

Evidence supporting the charges against the commanders and several lower-ranking officers who served on the ships will be reviewed soon in investigative hearings, according to the Navy's statement.

"The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offences," the statement added.

The commanding officer of the USS John S. McCain guided missile destroyer, which collided with a merchant ship near Singapore in August, faces charges of dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide, the statement said.

The commanding officer and three other officers on the USS Fitzgerald guided missile destroyer, which collided with a Philippine container ship in June, face charges including dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide, the Navy said.

Results from Navy investigations released in November found that both accidents were the result of human error by sailors aboard the ships, but determined that no single person could be blamed for the accidents.

Beyond the courts-martial, the Navy is conducting additional administrative actions for members of both crews, including non-judicial punishment for four crew members of each vessel, according to the Navy statement on Tuesday.

After the collisions, the commanding officers, Commander Bryce Benson of the Fitzgerald, and Cmdr Alfredo Sanchez of the John S. McCain, along with their second-in-commands, were relieved of their duties. Still, in October, the Navy began looking into further disciplinary actions for those involved.

In November, the Navy released collision reports that covered the June 17 episode between the Fitzgerald and a commercial ship that killed seven sailors off Japan and the Aug 21 collision between the John S. McCain and another commercial vessel, the Alnic MC, that left 10 dead as the destroyer approached Singapore.

The Navy concluded that both collisions resulted in a chain of errors, missed warnings and poor training.

"The collisions were avoidable," Admiral John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said in a summary of the reports, released in November.

Richardson and the secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, are set to appear in front of two subcommittees of the House Armed Services on Thursday (Jan 18), focusing extensively on naval operations.