The collisions of two U.S. Navy destroyers in the western Pacific Ocean, one of which killed two San Diego-area sailors, were the result of a failure of leadership and lack of adherence to watch procedures, according to a report released Wednesday.
The USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippines-flagged cargo ship on June 17 off Tokyo, and the USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian- registered tanker vessel on Aug. 21 in the Straits of Singapore. Both destroyers are based in Japan.
Aboard the Fitzgerald, seven crewmen died, including then-Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, of San Diego, and then-Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, of Chula Vista. The duo, and the five other victims, were posthumously promoted in August.
Ten McCain sailors were killed, none from San Diego. In both instances, the remains were found in flooded sleeping compartments.
The report issued by the Navy covered the results of three investigations.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said both accidents were preventable, and that the Navy “must do better” from now on.
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,” Richardson said. “We must never allow an accident like this to take the lives of such magnificent young sailors and inflict such painful grief on their families and the nation.”
In the case of the Fitzgerald, the investigations found that the collision with the ACX Crystal “resulted from an accumulation of smaller errors over time, ultimately resulting in a lack of adherence to sound navigational practices,” the report said.
The destroyer’s watch teams disregarded established norms of basic contact management and leaders failed to adhere to established protocols put in place to prevent collisions, according to the Navy.
The collision between the McCain and Alnic MC was also avoidable and resulted primarily from “complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedural compliance,” the Navy said.
The report said that a major contributing factor to the collision was a sub-standard level of knowledge regarding the operation of the ship control console. McCain’s commanding officer disregarded recommendations from his executive officer, navigator and senior watch officer to set sea and anchor watch teams in a timely fashion to ensure the safe and effective operation of the ship, according to the report.
The commanding and executive officers of both destroyers have already been relieved of their duties. The command master chief of the Fitzgerald was also reassigned.