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Fitzgerald's top officers relieved of duties after fatal collision

Aug 18, 2017 08:59 AM

The Navy says 'flawed watch stander teamwork and inadequate leadership' contributed to the accident

Seven U.S. sailors were killed when USS Fitzgerald collided with the containership ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan on June 17.

Courtesy U.S. Navy

Seven U.S. sailors were killed when USS Fitzgerald collided with the containership ACX Crystal off the coast of Japan on June 17.

The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet:

(YOKOSUKA, Japan) — The commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief of the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) were relieved of their duties by Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander, 7th Fleet, on Friday. Additionally, a number of officers and enlisted watch standers were held accountable. The determinations were made following a thorough review of the facts and circumstances leading up to the June 17 collision between Fitzgerald and the merchant vessel ACX Crystal.    

The collision was avoidable and both ships demonstrated poor seamanship. Within Fitzgerald, flawed watch stander teamwork and inadequate leadership contributed to the collision that claimed the lives of seven Fitzgerald sailors, injured three more, and damaged both ships.   

With absolute accountability for the safe navigation of Fitzgerald, Cmdr. Bryce Benson was relieved due to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead. He had previously been temporarily relieved of his duties due to medical reasons from injuries sustained during the collision. Benson is being reassigned to Naval District Washington at the Washington Navy Yard, where he will have access to medical facilities in the area.    

Inadequate leadership by the executive officer, Cmdr. Sean Babbitt, and command master chief, Master Chief Petty Officer Brice Baldwin, contributed to the lack of watch stander preparedness and readiness that was evident in the events leading up to the collision.   

Several junior officers were relieved of their duties due to poor seamanship and flawed teamwork as bridge and combat information center watch standers. Additional administrative actions were taken against members of both watch teams.  

Cmdr. Garret Miller will assume command from Fitzgerald's acting commanding officer, Cmdr. John "Jack" Fay, sometime in August.  

It was also evident from this review that the entire Fitzgerald crew demonstrated real toughness that night. Following the collision, these sailors responded with urgency, determination and creativity to save their ship. Their rigorous damage-control efforts and dauntless fighting in the immediate wake of the accident prevented further loss of life.  

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