One and a half years after the disaster that occurred off the coast of Japan, the previously classified details of the investigation became known. The American destroyer Fitzgerald collided with a container ship due to an incredible mess on board. Defective equipment and crew negligence led to the death of seven people.
On January 14, 2019, the American Navy News Web site published as many as two large and detailed articles (once and twice) on the results of the investigation of the Fitzgerald incident. For a year and a half, these materials remained secret, and after getting acquainted with them it becomes clear why – they put the American fleet far from being in the best possible look.
On the seventeenth of June 2017, the Fitzgerald destroyer collided off the coast of Japan with the container ship ACX Crystal, sailing under the Philippine flag. The ship received heavy damage and did not go to the bottom only thanks to the decisive actions of the team. Seven crew members were killed, three (including the captain) were injured. The container ship got off with scratched paint.
The clash had severe consequences. The Fitzgerald commander and three officers were charged with negligence, dangerous ship control and unintentional murder. When, a month later, on August 21, 2017, the destroyer “John McCain” of the same type as Fitzgerald collided with an oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Navy Pacific Fleet, resigned – because two similar incidents in a row are like too much.
But, as it turns out now, there were more flowers. Because the investigation, which lasted for almost one and a half months, revealed the ‘atmosphere of general negligence, connivance and carelessness’ prevailing on board the destroyer (this was stated in the report).
The electronic navigation system of the ship did not work, and not only they were not going to repair it, but on the contrary – they dismantled it for spare parts in order to adjust other equipment, which seemed more important to the crew. Moreover, there was no navigator on FitzGerald since 2015! Who and how he plotted the course of the ship under such conditions, it remains only to guess – obviously, this was done by other officers in their free time with the use of good old paper cards.
In the light of this information, there is no question why the collision occurred – one has only to wonder why it did not happen earlier. The worst thing is that both the direct bosses and the high command in the States knew about the situation with the navigation system and the navigator, but in two years no one had a finger on them.
But that’s not all. In the combat information center of the ship (CIC, or CIC – Combat Information Center, as the Americans call it), a real disaster was created. Rear Admiral Brian Ford, who conducted the investigation, describes that the center was more like a student dormitory, rather than a warship compartment. Everywhere there were scraps, dirty clothes and household supplies.
There was a smell of urine in the room – it turned out that most operators were too lazy to walk to the latrine, and they relieved themselves of soda bottles, which they then left under the consoles. Board for operational information was covered with extraneous inscriptions and drawings. Half the equipment did not work.
The remote control of one of the radars, for example, was sealed with scotch tape, so that no one would poke a button in vain, “because it still doesn’t turn on” – and the radar’s malfunction didn’t even bother to report where it should be, and how long it was nobody remembered. However, the faults that were reported were simply not fixed. Some repair claims, as Ford discovered, ‘hung’ unclosed for more than six months.
However, even if the BIC worked as expected, it would not help much. The signalmen on the Fitzgerald bridge just before the collision experienced difficulties in keeping track of the situation – the traffic was always brisk off the coast of Japan near the large port. But despite this, they did not request assistance from the BIC in tracing the surrounding vessels — although that’s what it was intended for.
Do you know why? Hold the chairs tight – because the watch officer, Lieutenant Sarah Koppok, had a personal dislike for the BIC operators and avoided contact with them! Lieutenant Natalie Combs, the commander of the CID, however, was still busy at this time with paperwork.
Yes, right on the watch, but what about that? This behavior is not surprising – the Fitzgerald officers were not at all distinguished by high professionalism. When, during the investigation of the incident, they were forced to take a test on the basics of navigation, the average result was 59%. No one passed the “excellent” test, the results above 80% showed only three officers out of twenty-two.
The final chord – the destroyer steering system control system on the bridge has been buggy since 2016. Sometimes she simply refused to accept commands, and her brains could only be reset by a reboot that lasts a few minutes.
This is despite the fact that the fate of a ship when maneuvering is often decided by seconds. In BIC there is a remote control system, which allows, if necessary, to ‘intercept the steering wheel’ from colleagues from the bridge, but she – guess what? That’s right, did not work and was partially disassembled for parts.
According to the naval command, from what is happening, ‘appropriate conclusions have been drawn’ and ‘at the moment the situation in the Pacific Fleet has improved significantly.’ But, in their opinion, journalists should not publish such materials, since this ‘could harm the interests of the United States and aggravate the suffering of the families of the victims.’ Who would doubt that…