The US Navy on Wednesday issued a highly critical report into two multiple-fatality collisions involving its vessels with much larger merchant ships in east and southeast Asian waters earlier this year, saying the incidents were avoidable.
In the first incident on June 17, the destroyer USS Fitzgerald hit Philippines-flagged container ship ACX Crystal off Japan, resulting in seven deaths of US sailors.
Then, on August 21, the USS John McCain hit Liberian-flagged oil tanker Alnic MC off Singapore, leaving 10 sailors dead.
In issuing the report, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral John Richardson blamed the terrible outcomes on a string of crew mistakes and basic navigational errors.
“Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents,” said Admiral Richardson, the most senior naval officer assigned to the Department of the Navy. “We must do better.”
The USS Fitzgerald and ACX Crystal tragedy resulted from an accumulation of small errors over time, culminating in a critical lack of adherence to sound navigational practices, the report found.
And in the case of the USS John McCain and Alnic MC, it found that there was a confluence of complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedural compliance.
In the wake of the accidents on August 23, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, was relieved of his duties as commander of the 7th Fleet, due to “loss of confidence in his ability to command”. The two top officers on each ship were also removed from their positions for the same reason.
“We are a Navy that learns from mistakes and the Navy is firmly committed to doing everything possible to prevent an accident like this from happening again,” added Richardson.