Nine people were hurt, with one listed in critical condition, after a 38-foot Coast Guard vessel collided with a U.S. Navy vessel of approximately the same size off the coast of Alaska on Wednesday. The Coast Guard vessel had just completed a helicopter hoist training exercise in conjunction with a nearby Coast Guard Air Base. It collided with the Navy ship shortly after turning back for home.
The Navy ship involved in the crash has been characterized as a Naval Special Warfare combatant craft by Capt. Tamara Lawrence of the U.S. Navy Special Warfare Command. Navy SEALs are known to train in the region at various times of the year. But thus far, it remains unclear whether or not any SEAL units were present during the crash. It also appears that six of the injured made up the entirety of the Coast Guard crew.
“An investigation is underway into the cause of the collision during routine training operations,” Lawrence said.
James Mullican, Kodiak Fire Department Chief, told the Anchorage Daily News that local EMTs and fire fighters assisted in transporting eight patients to the hospital, with the critically injured person (as yet unidentified) transferred off-island for more extensive care. Mullican could not speak to the extent of the damage on the Navy vessel, but noted that the Coast Guard’s “special purpose training boat,” showed visible signs of the crash. All six members of the Coast Guard were later released from the hospital. This suggests that the person still in critical condition, who was medevaced to Anchorage, is likely a U.S. Navy Sailor.
It currently appears that the Navy NSW vessel involved was a 60-foot Navy “Combatant Craft Medium” — a relatively new addition to the NSW fleet that was introduced in 2015 as a replacement for the aging Mk V Special Operations Craft.
The vessel is considered “low observable” and comes standard with a double aluminum hull that can withstand small arms fire. It can carry four people inside an enclosed protective cabin and has shock mitigation features intended to reduce the physical stress experienced by those inside. If a sailor was injured badly enough, to be in critical condition, aboard such a vessel, it was either a serious collision or the sailor may have been standing on the boat’s open rear deck.
“We will be doing an investigation into who was at fault and why it happened and what type of damage was sustained to both boats,” said Coast Guard Public Affairs Officer, Lt. Comm. Scott McCann. He went on to say that the investigation will likely involve both Coast Guard and Navy personnel and may take a few months to establish firm conclusions.
In 2017, two collisions involving U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers and a third incident involving a ship running aground shined a light on what seemed to be training and leadership failures throughout the surface fleet. These three incidents cost the lives of 17 sailors.