Junior officer pleads guilty to dereliction of duty in USS Fitzgerald collision

A junior naval officer on Tuesday pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty for her role in last year’s multiple-fatality collision between the US Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald and a containership in waters off Japan.

Lieutenant junior grade Sarah Coppock was the officer on the deck in charge of navigating the Fitzgerald on June 17, 2017, when it hit the container ship ACX Crystal with the loss of seven US sailors.

“Not a day goes by where I haven’t thought about what I could have done differently,” Coppock said in the court martial hearing at Washington Navy Yard. “There is nothing I can do now but take responsibility.”

Coppock was sentenced to a letter of reprimand and the forfeiture of half her pay for three months.

She admitted violating her commanding officer’s order to contact him whenever a ship sailed within 6,000 yards of the Fitzgerald, which happened 13 times on the night of the collision. She also failed to communicate with the ship’s Combat Information Center and did not alert the crew of an imminent collision.

Coppock also said that the ship’s primary navigation radar had developed problems about an hour before the accident.

This was day one of proceedings for four of the ship’s officers, including the CO, Bryce Benson.

The Fitzgerald collision was one of two major incidents involving the Seventh Fleet and commercial vessels last summer. In the other, on August 21, the destroyer USS John S. McCain hit oil tanker Alnic MC near Singapore with the loss of 10 navy crewmen.

Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.
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