Home / Robert Farley / USS Fitzgerald

USS Fitzgerald

170617-N-XN177-155 damaged Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) in June 2017.JPG
USS Fitzgerald after collision. By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart, Public Domain.

The Navy has released a report on the events leading to and immediately following the collision between the destroyer USS Fitzgerald and merchant vessel ACX Crystal.  Well worth your time, especially if you did not find the depiction of sinking in Dunkirk sufficiently harrowing (see especially points 28 and 29).

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  • RepubAnon

    Apparently the merchant ship had the right of way – unclear why Fitzgerald didn’t maneuver to avoid.

    • David Allan Poe

      There are really only three possibilites now – they didn’t see the Crystal at all, they saw it and botched the radar track, or they saw it, tracked it correctly, and whoever had the command at the time (given the hour, not likely to be one of the more senior deck officers) assumed he had speed and maneuverability to burn and could squirt in front of it instead of altering course or slowing down like you’re supposed to.

      • Sagas

        You can’t really mess up tracks with AEGIS unless the TAO is a real asshole and yelled at the OSes until they turned the sensitivity down incredibly low. Even then you should see a merchant unless the screen was completely blank, which would be really suspicious.

        I was hoping this would cover the events leading up to the collision. Between the OOD, lookouts, radar, CIC, this is a team failure.

        • sigaba

          I assume the events-leading-up-to are sitting with prosecutors at the moment.

        • David Allan Poe

          I’m sure the report detailing what happened is being triple-checked as we speak.

          My gut has said this is on whoever was running the bridge since the beginning. I wasn’t in the Navy, but I’ve sat lots of watches in slow-moving fishing boats and seen way too many dipshits in fast boats cut me off when I had the right of way. I would be unsurprised to discover that a junior officer on a destroyer had a too-cavalier attitude towards the Rules of the Road.

          • Sagas

            It will be on the Office of the Deck (OOD), the lead on the bridge. However, a bunch of other people are going to share some responsibility (and blame). CIC should be calling up if the OOD misses something. Lookouts should be looking out. FITZGERALD would almost always have radar lit up, and if they didn’t the visual watch should have been on serious pucker alert. Finally, every CO has standing orders on when to wake them up, and ‘ship passing within X yards (5,000-10,000 is common)’ is almost always on that list. If anything, a JO who is OOD would have maneuvered earlier to avoid having to call the CO – if possible, given traffic conditions.

        • Warren Terra

          Yeah, so far as I can see there is nothing about how this collision could possibly have happened, despite what should have been immense amounts of warning and opportunity to avoid it. I didn’t see anything about whether either ship was using radar (or multiple radars), using transponders, monitoring radios, etcetera. Nothing about how much if any warning or response happened.

          It’s great to have all this information about the damage response, but the accident remains extraordinary.

          • trh

            As the report stated, this looked only at what happened after the collision. There are other investigations still ongoing. There will be other reports out. It just takes time.

        • David McWilliams

          I’m wondering if it’s a matter of too many tracks on the plot, as opposed to too few. No idea how busy the sea is there, though.

  • sigaba

    The linked document only seems to cover the aftermath.

  • Zagarna_84

    Are we sure none of these Nazis infiltrated the Fitzgerald? They did always enjoy sinking our merchant shipping…

  • efgoldman

    CBS had a fairly long report this evening. The part of the story that most impressed me, as I said to mrs efg, was that the training worked, every bit of it.

    • sigaba

      Yeah it sounds like everything after the collision was clockwork, everybody knew what to do.

      Sounds like everything leading up to it was tragic.

    • FMguru

      The US Navy has long had a reputation of taking damage control very, very seriously. I suspect it came from the practice they got dealing with kamikaze strikes in 1944-5.

      • Captain Oblivious

        Also, the Forrestal disaster, which got out of control in part because the policy at the time was to have specialist fire crews rather than training all sailors in firefighting.

  • wjts

    Possibly stupid question:

    There are three repair lockers on the FITZGERALD: Repair Locker 2, Repair Locker 5, and Repair Locker 3.

    Why aren’t the three repair lockers numbered 1, 2, and 3?

    • medrawt

      Possibly stupid wild-ass-guess of an answer:

      There are multiple similar lockers (at least 5) for various purposes distributed throughout the ship and numbered in a logical fashion by location irrespective of their use; 2, 3, and 5 happen to be the ones designated as Repair Lockers. With this system you wouldn’t need to remember where Repair Locker #2 is vs. Supply Locker #2, you just need to know the logically arranged distribution of locker numbers period when the locker in question is mentioned.

      Or something that makes more sense. Or something that makes less sense.

      • wjts

        That does make sense. It may even be correct!

        • medrawt

          When I was a younger man I had more faith that the one implied the other.

          • wjts

            In Phillip Caputo’s A Rumor of War there’s a bit where he talks about preparing to head out for Vietnam. Someone ordered him to make a chalk mark at the center of mass (gravity?) on all the vehicles.

            “How do I know where that is?”

            “It’s marked in paint on the side.”

      • sigaba

        The alternative I was considering: The Manual says odd numbered lockers are port, even starboard, and there only enough room for one starboard locker.

        The Manual might also say that locker number one has to have a Jaws of Life and a Porta-power, and these are no longer equipped due to being off the required list for 20 years, but it’s easier to change the list of required equipment than to change the list that says which equipment is required for which locker, and you can’t have a locker one without a jaws, so locker five it is.

  • Captain Oblivious

    From the names of the deceased, it’s obvious that several of them were minorities.

    like to ask those assholes who brought their tiki torches to
    Charlottesville why they don’t enlist their super-patriotic white asses,
    or if they think it’s okay to let non-whites die to protect their
    freedom to be jerkoffs.

    • sigaba


    • Gwai Lo, MD

      Well the terrorist did enlist and washed out within 4 months. Probably wanted to go Full Metal Jacket.

    • rrhersh

      Also, the Damage Control Assistant, who seems to have performed admirably, was a woman.

    • Here are the names of the sailors who died in the collision:

      Dakota Rigsby
      Shingo Douglass
      Carlos Ganzon Sibayon
      Xavier Martin
      Ngoc Truong Huynh
      Noe Hernandez
      Gary Rehm

      Now, Charlottesville nazis, do you notice anything about those names?


      You still don’t see it? It’s not a trick question. It’s not even a difficult question.

      Here, let me help you: they are all American names.

      • so-in-so

        Unfortunately, that’s what they have a problem with. They want most of the kicked out.

        • Captain Oblivious

          But most don’t appear to be all that willing or able to replace them.

    • gyrfalcon

      The officer who led and trained up the damage control crew is neither named nor (thankfully) deceased, but I’m betting a majority of the Charlottesvillle reich-wingers would’ve insisted on her being shoreside and barefoot in a kitchen somewhere, not serving aboard where her people did, as efgoldman has noted, everything right.

  • JR in WV

    I read that report. I served on a Navy ship from 1970-1973; fortunately we never had a serious or tragic incident while at sea. I was trained as a firefighter, but never actually fought one in the Navy – although I put my burning house out with a glove-box-sized fire extinguisher (huzzah!). Some training you never lose.

    I cried when I read of the sailors reaching into the black water at 2 am, trying to pull a fellow sailor out, before slamming the water-tight door shut, dooming anyone left below. Grim reading. The crew did the best they could, they saved the ship, which with a vast fuq’n’ hole below the waterline, could have sunk without anyone knowing what had happened.

    Obviously something terrible went wrong in navigating the ship in detail. I stood watches on the bridge of my ship, and everyone was, even at 2 am, as alert and on the edge as they could possibly be. There were 700+ men on board the ship, and their lives depended upon the bridge watch doing their job correctly. My role was bottom of the totem-pole. I was there to go wake up the next group of guys who were going to take over the bridge watch, and to get coffee for the officer of the deck. Who was representing the Captain, who wasn’t actually on the bridge that often. I was sent to fetch the Captain or XO from time to time.

    We entered the mouth of the Mississippi River, with pilots on board. You want to talk about a congested sea way, the Gulf of Mexico approaches to the Mississippi River have to be on the short list. We went there twice when I was on board, although I didn’t stand bridge watches the first time. It was amazing, just standing watching the oil rigs and sulfur mines, passing other merchant ships, seeing the delta on it’s very wet edges.

    The folks on the Fitzgerald must have let something go. I don’t blame the captain, who is technically completely responsible for every act on board the ship from the trash compactor to the missile launch control. He and his XO were not on the bridge, and someone they trusted to do the job didn’t get it done.

    Careers ended, the Master Chief as well. Everyone who was on bridge watch, done. Find another career, guys. Of course today’s Navy they aren’t all guys, the damage control officer was a woman, who obviously did that job after the collision.

    An 11×17 foot hole below the waterline!!! How did they keep that ship from sinking? They sailed back into their base on their own. They had lots of help but they were underway on their own. Amazing.

    Now I feel that I’ve run off at the mouth late at night. no matter, I’m done here.

    • bender

      I value reports from people who have done the job very highly.

    • Robert T Coleman

      I was a junior officer on a submarine from 2001-2004. I was OOD for several surface transits in that area back then, and let me tell you, the amount of things going on at any one time is astounding. I had to keep track (in my head mostly, because the bridge of a submarine doesn’t have any fancy gear) of 10-20 large ships who would never see me.

      My CO’s standing orders were to maneuver to prevent a CPA (Closest Point of Approach) of less than 3nm (6k yards) and call if anybody got within 5nm. If we were in a channel or other highly congested area where this wasn’t practical, either he or the XO would be in control at all times.

      My best guess is that they screwed up the CPA calc, didn’t understand CBDR (Constant Bearing, Decreasing Range) until it was too late. And they let the stand-on ship cross without maneuvering.

      DCAs on submarine are 1st tour junior officers, rarely more than 24-25 and 3 years out of college. I suspect its the same on a surface combatant. The senior enlisted person in the division is 34-36 at most, possibly as young as 28-30. Those two are going to be able to write their own ticket for their whole career.

      We did have a fire or two on board (my ship was OLD…). During drills the required number (3-4 maybe) of fire extinguishers would be brought to the scene. When a real fire happened, I swear 25 showed up before I could get the 1MC announcement out!

      • JR in WV

        My ship was built in the 1940s and served actively in the South Pacific during WW II.

        That’s a pretty good crew to show up with ALL the fire extinguishers. You can put out a huge fire with a couple of those 50 pound ANSUL jobs. I got yelled out for putting out a big oil fire in firefighter school with the extinguisher, not giving the hose crews a chance. The Chief held my shoulder the second time and didn’t let go until it was totally engulfed.

        Unbelievable that it was still in service into the 1980s IIRC. As a sub tender, we were prepared to repair or replace lots of things that would be a problem on a ship without a foundry and machine shop, a big fully equipped machine ship.

        There was a fire once, in a big raceway deep below decks. I was not on that team and it was put out quickly by guys wearing old fashioned rebreather units. Our ship was really deep, 6 or 7 decks below where common crew traffic took place.

        Stores of anything a sub might need, tanks of fuel, munitions, hundreds of torpedoes, and machinery, two engine rooms, two boiler rooms, twin shafts with big bearings, I think that was where the fire was, at the bottom of a set of ladders to access a shaft bearing.

      • Latverian Diplomat

        Heh. It took a second for me to parse nm as “Nautical Mile” instead of nanometer.

  • sigaba

    Various deets from Navy Times:

    “Five Sailors used a sledgehammer, kettlebell, and their bodies to break through the door into the CO’s cabin, remove the hinges, and then pry the door open enough to squeeze through,” the report states.

    “The skin of the ship and outer bulkhead were gone and the night sky could be seen through the hanging wires and ripped steel,” the report states. “The rescue team tied themselves together with a belt in order to create a makeshift harness as they retrieved the CO, who was hanging from the side of the ship.” Debris and furniture still lay wedged against the door, so a junior officer and two chiefs crawled into the cabin.

    About that time, all power forward was lost. A sailor had to call Destroyer Squadron 15 on a personal cell phone at about 2:15 a.m. to notify them of the catastrophe, according to the report.

    (at this point Civil Air Patrol Vet sigaba is like ?????????)

    [Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill] Moran said “the bridge lost situational awareness” before the Crystal struck the destroyer at about 1:30 a.m. local time off the coast of Japan. The rate of closure and lack of maneuver space meant there was “not enough time nor room” to avoid a collision, he said.

    Other Navy investigations regarding who was at fault in the collision remain ongoing, and Moran declined to discuss the details.

    • so-in-so

      A sailor using a cell phone to call for help – shades of soldiers using a phone line and credit card to call for support from Grenada.

  • Hypersphericalcow

    I’d like to see a similar report from the Crystal’s perspective. Did they see the destroyer? Did they see it and think, “Hey they’re headed towards us, but they’re USN, they know what they’re doing”?

    • David Allan Poe

      It would be interesting to know what was going on on that bridge. It’s also totally irrelevant, now that the report indicates that Crystal had the right of way. Its job during the incident was to keep going the same direction at the same speed and only attempt to maneuver in an effort to avoid an imminent collision. The entire crew could have been engaging in a coke-fueled orgy in the galley with all the radars off and the burden of staying out of the way would still be on Fitzgerald.

      • Hypersphericalcow

        Very true, and it’s not like a freighter that size can move fast to avoid a collision anyways.

      • trh

        It is not irrelevant that ACX Crystal was the stand-on vessel and the total burden is not just the give-way vessel’s job. As you said, the stand-on vessel has to maneuver if they don’t think the give-way vessel is taking action to avoid collision. The master of the merchant said they tried to contact the Navy ship and even used their signal lights, but got no response. That is when they should have maneuvered to avoid the collision. AIS tracks would indicate the merchant remained on auto-pilot until about 30 minutes after the collision.
        The official investigation(s) will find that both ships were at fault. Mostly the Fitzgerald, but the merchant should have taken action also. (Yes, I know merchants can’t maneuver as quickly as a war ship. And we’ll never know the outcome had they actual taken action to avoid the collision. But they should have turned starboard.)

        • David Allan Poe

          Yeah, you’re right. I was being excessively flippant. That said, it’s hard to know exactly what the Crystal “should” have done, because from the perspective of the stand-on vessel in a situation that’s gone outside the boundaries of an ordinary crossing, you have literally no idea what the other boat is going to do.

          It’s a pretty helpless feeling watching somebody come down a radar bearing line and not alter course or speed when they’re the give-way vessel, because it throws a lot of unpredictability into what should be a very predictable situation. The “best” way to turn is port, because if they keep going straight and you do it early enough, it puts you behind the other boat faster. But you’re also aware that whoever is on the other bridge might suddenly
          snap out of it and alter course to starboard, like they should have
          done in the first place, in which case it’s better to have just kept on
          going straight. The closer the two boats get the more you start thinking about going to starboard, or even throwing the helm hard over and gunning the engine in an effort to stop or slow down enough to avoid a collision. There’s definitely going to be a very limited amount of time to make a decision, especially with a boat with as much momentum as a container ship. Assuming the Crystal’s bridge was properly manned, they were in a very tough spot.

      • DocAmazing

        The entire crew could have been engaging in a coke-fueled orgy in the galley

        Don’t talk to me about “naval tradition”!

  • Leigh Grossman

    This came out yesterday as well: http://www.military.com/daily-news/2017/08/17/navy-fires-3-leaders-uss-fitzgerald-wake-deadly-collision.html

    “The commander of the destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the executive officer have been permanently detached from the ship and face non-judicial punishment over the deadly collision in June with a container ship, the Navy announced Thursday.

    Cmdr. Bryce Benson, commander of the Fitzgerald, and Cmdr. Sean Babbitt, the executive officer, are “being detached for cause,” meaning that the Navy “has lost trust and confidence in their ability to lead,” Adm. Bill Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, said during a press conference.

    Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the 7th Fleet, has also decided that the top enlisted sailor aboard the Fitzgerald and several other sailors on the watch crew at the time of the collision on June 17 will also face non-judicial punishment, Moran said.”

    • Leigh Grossman

      The seven dead sailors were also posthumously promoted.

    • Hypersphericalcow

      “Non-judicial punishment?” What the hell? People died on their watch from a completely avoidable screw-up. Is there some subtlety of military law that I’m not aware of?

      • Lurker

        Non-judicial punishment is actually pretty serious in the US military. It means, in a case like this, loss of pay and most likely, a reprimand, which is the end of an officer’s career. These guys will be posted for shore duty (are there naval depots in Northern Alaska?) and will never again get a promotion, thus ensuring that they leave service via up-or-out process. Considering that this is essentially an organizational screw-up, and there may be mitigating factors, prison time is not warranted. I don’t think that any Western navy would put a naval captain to prison for a collision resulting from bad organization.

        These guys have used their whole lives for naval service, and now they are disgraced officially, humiliated and forced out in shame. It is pretty heavy punishment, if you think of it. The military lives in honour culture, so this is quite a deterrent.

        • Hypersphericalcow

          Thanks for the details. So this is basically just short of a dishonorable discharge?

          • Lurker

            A dishonorable discharge is quite rare. An officer cannot even get one. (For them, the equivalent would be dismissal, that requires a court-martial.) Usually, criminal enlisted members get a lighter level of discharge, e.g. bad-conduct discharge or other-than-honorable discharge. Dishonorable discharge means loss of all benefits and is usually equivalent to being a felon in state law, while even a general discharge under honorable conditions may actually cause you problems. What I told above was that in my guess, the likely result is a massive professional embarrassment and a slow-motion firing.

            • Hypersphericalcow

              Thanks for the education! I don’t know anything about military laws except what I’ve seen in movies, which is probably not very accurate.

            • Sagas

              Lurker’s spot on. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the OOD and TAO.

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