Preliminary findings from the Navy’s investigation into the fatal collision between the destroyer USS Fitzgerald and Philippine-flagged container ship ACX Crystal indicate the June 17 accident off the coast of Japan resulted from “multiple errors” and “a failure to take action” on the part of the Fitzgerald’s crew, CNN reported July 21, citing two anonymous Department of Defense officials.
One anonymous defense official told CNN that the Fitzgerald crew “did nothing until the last second.” The shocking collision left seven sailors dead.
The Navy and Department of Defense did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Task & Purpose, but Navy officials reached by Navy Times declined to confirm the CNN report, stating that it was “way too early” to analyze the initial findings of Pentagon investigators.
“Both officials said the initial investigation found that the Fitzgerald crew failed to understand and acknowledge the cargo ship was approaching and failed to take any action necessary to avoid the collision,” CNN’s Barbara Starr reported. “It's also not clear if the crew ever called the commanding officer to come to the bridge.”
If confirmed, the CNN report appears in line with the ACX Crystal skipper’s June claim to investigators that the destroyer “failed to respond to warning signals or take evasive action,” as Reuters reported at the time. In his statement, the captain stated that the Fitzgerald “suddenly” changed course to cross the cargo vessel’s path despite signals from the latter.
Shortly after the June 17 collision, the New York Times reported that both Navy and Japanese investigators planned on interviewing every Fitzgerald crewman on duty to “assess their training, experience, competence and sleep schedule” and determine if human error contributed to the fatal collision.
If human error was truly the cause, as the CNN report suggests, it’s a costly mistake. Not only were the lives of seven sailors lost in the crash, but the collision tore a monstrous hole in the starboard side of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, evidenced by stunning photos published July 12 of the vessel at the Navy’s dry dock facility in Yokosuka, Japan.
Chances are, those photos will serve as a grim reminder for sailors to never again, as CNN put it, do nothing until the last second.