According to a statement provided by a Defense Department official under the condition of anonymity, the crew of the USS Fitzgerald appear to be to blame for their vessel colliding with a Philippine cargo ship last month.
Per the initial findings of the Defense Department led investigation into the incident, the crew of the Fitzgerald were “not paying attention to their surroundings” during the early morning hours of June 17th, ultimately resulting in the guided missile destroyer colliding with the significantly larger ACX Crystal despite clear weather conditions in the southern portion of the Tokyo Bay that night.
The ACX Crystal struck the USS Fitzgerald on its starboard, or right-hand, side, tearing a large gash in the ship’s hull below the water line and flooding two of the crew compartments on board. Seven sailors died in the incident, but the Fitzgerald was ultimately able to limp back to its home port in Yokosuka, Japan under its own power, with some assistance from tug boats.
The crash compromised the Fitzgerald’s navigation suite of electronics, one of the props used to the propel the vessel, and its communications systems. The commanding officer’s cabin was also impacted, causing serious injuries to Navy Cmdr. Bryce Benson. Benson first reported to the bridge with the help of sailors from his crew, before ultimately being airlifted for medical attention along with two other sailors injured in the crash.
Near the end of June, a statement released by the captain of the ACX Crystal cargo ship placed the blame for the collision squarely on the crew of the Fitzgerald, claiming that the U.S. Navy vessel “suddenly” steamed on to a course that directly intersected the cargo ship’s path. According to the captain’s statement, the crew of the ACX Crystal attempted to turn off of their course, and to warn the Navy ship away using radio calls and warning lights. Despite making a course correction nearly ten minutes prior to the collision however, the massive cargo ship was not able to make the turn fast enough to avoid the smaller destroyer.
Now, according to an anonymous statement provided to Reuters, it would seem the U.S. investigation supports the statement provided by the captain of the cargo ship.
“There was not a lot that went right leading up to the crash. There were a string of errors, but they did a lot after the collision to save lives and the ship,” the official said, before going on to explain that the Fitzgerald’s crew were not paying attention, and failed to take corrective action that could have prevented the collision from occurring.
Although the investigation is ongoing, Reuters’ source claimed witness and crew statements had all been gathered, as well as radar information from the night of the crash, and that the findings were unlikely to change as the investigation is brought to a close.
Officially, however, the U.S. Navy is not prepared to claim the crash was the result of the Fitzgerald’s crew’s inattentiveness. On Friday, Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler released a statement saying, “We are in the early stages of the investigation process to develop a comprehensive picture of what caused the collision and do not have any definitive information to release at this time. It is premature to speculate on causation or any other issues.”
Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy