According to the report filed by the Philippine captain of the cargo ship that struck the U.SS. Fitzgerald on June 17th, killing seven of its crew members, the U.S. Navy vessel failed to respond to warning signals or execute any form of evasive action prior to the tragic collision.
In the early hours of the morning, the ACX Crystal struck the comparably much smaller Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald on its starboard, or right-hand, side. The collision caused serious damage to the Navy vessel, flooding three large compartments, including two berthing areas that housed members of the ship’s sleeping crew. The commanding officer’s quarters were also, hit, resulting in Navy Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the ship’s commander, needing to be medically evacuated along with two other crew members. A total of seven sailors died in the incident, and the Fitzgerald was able to return to its home port for repairs under its own power.
Since the collision, multiple investigations managed by U.S. and Japanese officials have begun to try to determine how a U.S. destroyer could collide with a massive container ship in clear weather on the open ocean. Now, the first detailed account of what led to this tragic accident has come to light, in the form of the ACX Crystal’s captain, Ronald Advincula’s statement.
According to that statement, the Fitzgerald “suddenly” steamed on to a course that directed crossed the cargo ship’s path. The statement goes on to indicate that the ACX Crystal attempted to warn the Fitzgerald away using signals that included warning lights. He then ordered his ship to turn hard-starboard to avoid the U.S. Navy vessel. The statement suggests the cargo ship, which was three times the size of the Fitzgerald, began to make the turn ten minutes prior to the collision, but because of the huge size the ship, it was unable to turn sufficiently to avoid the Fitzgerald, tearing a gash below the ship’s waterline that would ultimately result in the death of seven American sailors.
The ACX Crystal went on to sail another six nautical miles after the crash before turning around and returning to the scene. That, as well as the amount of time it took the Crystal to report the event (nearly an hour) have prompted some to question the actions of the Crystal’s crew. According to their captain, these issues were the result of “confusion” on his bridge.
While this report provides the first insights into what happened that fateful evening, it is important to note that they amount to little more than one piece of a much larger puzzle still being poured over by no less than six separate investigations, including two led by the U.S. Navy, a probe helmed by the Coast Guard on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board, and multiple investigations launched by both Japanese and Philippine agencies.
These investigations will pair witness testimonies with electronics data pulled from each ship to ascertain exactly what went on that fateful evening, though if Advincula’s statements are proven accurate, it will likely mean serious ramifications for the sailors responsible for the crash.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy