The former commander of the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, who was sacked after two destroyers suffered multiple crew fatalities in collisions with much bigger commercial ships last year, says senior Navy people were well aware of the readiness issues those ships faced but did nothing about them.
On June 17, seven sailors died on the USS Fitzgerald after it hit container ship ACX Crystal off Japan. And on August 21 the USS John S. McCain collided with oil tanker Alnic MC near Singapore, costing 10 lives.
Writing in the Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin (retired) said he had explicitly alerted Commander, US Pacific Fleet (ComPacFlt) about concerns regarding the Seventh Fleet’s training and maintenance. But the fleet received no significant relief from its tasks nor any additional resources and was still directed to execute its mission.
Aucoin said that often “our arguments and recommendations were either overruled or ignored” and ships were ordered to sea despite his concerns.
He took issue with the comprehensive review and strategic readiness review conducted after the two tragedies, saying they give the false impression that he and his staff were oblivious to or unconcerned about the deficiencies in manning, training and maintenance affecting the ships.
And he asked why he was never interviewed for the comprehensive review, wondering how comprehensive it could be without his input.
In November, the Navy’s report into the two collisions heaped blame on crew members, citing complacency, accumulations of errors and failure to observe sound navigational practices.