After a fatal collision with a container ship that left seven sailors dead in June, the Navy has relieved the commander and the senior leadership of the USS Fitzgerald for losing “situational awareness” in the hours leading up to the collision, the service’s deputy chief said Thursday.
Cmdr Bryce Benson will be relieved for cause by Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, Commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet after the service released a preliminary report on the collision. The fatal accident between the Fitzgerald and the ACX Crystal occurred on June 17 off the coast of Japan. This was reported by Adm. Bill Moran, the deputy chief of naval operations.
Moran didn’t rule out additional punishments being meted out. Thus far about a dozen sailors in all face some punishment, including every member of the destroyer’s watch.
“Clearly at some point, the bridge team lost situational awareness,” Moran said.
Aucoin acted swiftly because the investigation indicated serious mistakes were made by the crew, Moran said. The Navy has lost confidence in the sailors being relieved.
Collisions should never happen, Moran said. “We got it wrong.”
The report released Thursday details the frantic efforts to account for all the sailors in the darkened, flooding ship, keep her afloat, and rescue the ship’s commander who dangled outside his crumpled cabin. The harrowing moments and hours after the collision — and the heroism that saved the lives of all but seven of the 35 sailors in Berthing 2 — are recounted in the report.
The captain, who was in his cabin at the time of the collision was rescued by members of the crew who had to pry parts of the hull away from his crumpled cabin, trapping him. He was dangling outside the ship as crew members hauled him to safety and then to a rescue helicopter where he was flown to a hospital in Japan.
Photo courtesy DOD