Navy Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, addressed the collision of the USS Fitzgerald with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel ACX Crystal in the Philippine Sea on Sunday, calling the crew’s efforts in the hours following the incident “heroic.”
According to Admiral Aucoin, the crew’s response “was swift and effective, and I want to point out — as we stand by the ship — how proud I am of them.”
At approximately 2:30AM local time, the ACX Crystal collided with the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer on its starboard, or right hand, side. The impact caused serious damage under the ship’s pilot house and produced a large puncture in the hull that resulted in serious flooding in three large compartments, including two berthing areas that house the ship’s 116-member crew. The commanding officer’s cabin was also directly hit, causing serious injuries to Navy Cmdr. Bryce Benson. He was among the three sailors airlifted from the vessel to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka for treatment after the collision.
Seven sailors lost their lives in the incident.
Were it not for the efforts of the Fitzgerald’s crew, the Admiral stated, the flooding would not have been contained in time and the ship may have been lost. The crash compromised the ship’s navigation suite of electronics as well as one of the props used to propel it through the water, forcing the crew to “navigate(d) the Fitzgerald into one of the busiest ports in the world with a magnetic compass and backup navigation equipment” on a single prop.
“Because of the tireless damage control efforts of a resolute and courageous team, the ship was able to make its way back to port safely on its own power last evening,” Aucoin said in the release.
“The Fitzgerald crew responded professionally as all sailors are expected to fight the damage sustained to their ship. They are known as the “Fighting Fitz,” and the crew lived up to that name,” the admiral added.
According to reports, the ACX Crystal, chartered by Japan’s Nippon Yusen KK, first passed by the smaller U.S. Navy vessel in clear weather, only to execute a complete U-turn between 12:58 a.m. and 2:46 a.m., leading to the collision. Multiple investigations have commenced from both the United States Navy and The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, which aided in the rescue and recovery efforts for the Fitzgerald’s crew after the incident.
More than an hour passed between the ACX Crystal hitting the Fitzgerald and the Philippine ship reporting the incident to Japanese authorities, though it’s important to note that such delays can sometimes be expected as the ship’s crew identifies the extent of the damage and addresses more pressing matters such as crew safety.
“We owe it to our families and the Navy to understand what happened,” Aucoin said. The U.S. Coast Guard is expected to take the lead on the U.S. side of the investigation. Although this incident occurred in Japanese waters, the nature of America’s defense treaty with Japan allows them the authority to assume responsibility for the official investigation of incidents that involve American warships.
After the incident, the Fitzgerald was able to return to its home port in Yokosuka, Japan under its own power with the aid of tug boats.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy