On Tuesday, the United States Navy announced that a number of officers and the former commanders of two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers involved in collisions that claimed the lives of 17 sailors over the past summer will face criminal charges for their roles in the events.

The sailors were all parts of the command staff of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, each involved in similar collisions with merchant vessels in the Pacific.  The charges levied against the group range from dereliction of duty to hazarding a vessel, and even negligent homicide.

“After careful deliberation, today Adm. Frank Caldwell announced that Uniform Code of Military Justice charges are being preferred against individual service members in relation to the collisions,” a Navy statement said.

Among those facing charges are both ships commanders, Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez from the McCain and Commander Bryce Benson of the Fitzgerald.  Also facing charges are two Lieutenants, and one Lieutenant Junior Grade from the USS Fitzgerald, and one Chief Petty Officer from the USS John S. McCain who were not identified in the press release.

“Additional administrative actions are being conducted for members of both crews including non-judicial punishment for four Fitzgerald and four John S. McCain crewmembers.”

In November, the Navy released their investigations into both the collision of the USS Fitzgerald with the merchant ship ACX Crystal, as well as the USS John S. McCain with the Alnic MC.  In both reports, the Navy concluded that the incidents were the result of a lack of training, as well as “multiple failures” within the commands of both Navy vessels. Subsequent reports showed that both ships had serious deficiencies in operations training, which Navy officials have since blamed on a high operational tempo. The decision to charge the ship’s commanders, however, would suggest that the Navy does not consider the operational tempo to be responsible for either crash.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) sits in Dry Dock 4 at Fleet Activities Yokosuka

In a surprising turn of events, U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander of Naval Surface Forces, also announced that he will be stepping down from his post early, making him yet another in a growing list of high-ranking Navy officials to see their careers end following the rash of high-profile incidents involving U.S. Navy ships, including but not limited to the incidents involving the McCain and Fitzgerald.

“I have informed the chief of naval operations that this Thursday I will step aside earlier than previously planned as the commander, Naval Surface Forces, and commander, Naval Surface Force, US Pacific Fleet,” Rowden said in a statement.

“This was a difficult decision to make, but I make it with the best interest of the surface warfare community and the Navy in mind,” the statement said.

Last September, Rowden requested an early retirement following the two collisions that cost 17 sailors their lives. Two months later, the U.S. Senate confirmed Rear Adm. Richard Brown to serve as his replacement after his anticipated retirement in April, though Brown will now have to step in four months early.

“The decision to request an earlier retirement date than originally discussed was based upon my recognition of the need for new leadership in the Surface Forces,” Rowden wrote in an e-mail at the time.


Images courtesy of the U.S. Navy