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Fitzgerald, McCain commanders to be charged with negligent homicide

Jan 17, 2018 10:52 AM

Two fatal collisions also lead to charges of hazarding a vessel and dereliction of duty

USS Fitzgerald sits in dry dock in Yokosuka, Japan to continue repairs and assess damage sustained from its June 17 collision with a merchant vessel.

Courtesy U.S. Navy

USS Fitzgerald sits in dry dock in Yokosuka, Japan to continue repairs and assess damage sustained from its June 17 collision with a merchant vessel.

The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI):

(WASHINGTON) — The commanders of the two guided-missile destroyers that were involved in fatal collisions with merchant ships in 2017 will face military criminal charges that include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide, USNI News reported.

Cmdr. Bryce Benson, former commander of USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62), along with three Fitzgerald junior officers, face a mix of charges that include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide related to the June 17 collision between the ship and ACX Crystal that resulted in the death of seven sailors, according to a statement from the U.S. Navy.

Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez, former commander of USS John S. McCain (DDG-56), faces similar dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide charges for the Aug. 21 collision between the guided-missile destroyer and a chemical tanker off the coast of Singapore that resulted in the death of 10 sailors.

The individuals will have the charges preferred via Article 32 preliminary hearings soon, the statement said.

“The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses. All individuals alleged to have committed misconduct are entitled to a presumption of innocence,” the statement said. “Additional administrative actions are being conducted for members of both crews including non-judicial punishment for four Fitzgerald and four John S. McCain crewmembers.”

A chief petty officer also faces a dereliction of duty charge that has already been preferred related to the McCain incident.

The charges are part of accountability actions recommended by an independent investigation tasked with reviewing further disciplinary actions by Navy leadership.

Director of Naval Reactors Adm. James F. Caldwell was appointed as the Consolidated Disposition Authority (CDA) for administrative and disciplinary actions related to the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions by Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran in late October.

Other actions include removing Vice Adm. Tom Rowden from his position as the head of naval surface forces earlier than his planned Feb. 2 retirement date.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer are set to appear before the House Armed Services readiness and seapower and projection forces subcommittees on Thursday to testify on the two reviews conducted following the Western Pacific collisions. Richardson tasked U.S. Fleet Forces Command with leading a comprehensive review of recent surface force incidents, and Spencer directed a panel to lead a strategic readiness review.

To date, the Navy has removed the commanding officers and executive officers of both McCain and Fitzgerald; Capt. Jeffery Bennett, commodore of the Japan-based Destroyer Squadron 15 to which both ships belonged; the Japan-based task force commander, Rear Adm. Charles Williams; and the commander of U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin.

U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift announced his earlier-than-expected retirement in late September.

The following is the complete statement from the service on the CDA recommendations:

On Oct. 30 2017, Admiral William Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, designated Admiral Frank Caldwell as the Consolidated Disposition Authority to review the accountability actions taken to date in relation to USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) collisions and to take additional administrative or disciplinary actions as appropriate.

After careful deliberation, today Admiral Frank Caldwell announced that Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) charges are being preferred against individual service members in relation to the collisions.

USS Fitzgerald: Courts-martial proceedings/Article 32 hearings are being convened to review evidence supporting possible criminal charges against Fitzgerald members. The members’ ranks include one Commander (the Commanding Officer), two Lieutenants, and one Lieutenant Junior Grade. The charges include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide.

USS John S. McCain: Additionally, for John S. McCain, one court- martial proceeding/Article 32 hearing is being convened to review evidence supporting possible criminal charges against one Commander (the Commanding Officer). The charges include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide. Also, one charge of dereliction of duty was preferred and is pending referral to a forum for a Chief Petty Officer.

The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses. All individuals alleged to have committed misconduct are entitled to a presumption of innocence.

Additional administrative actions are being conducted for members of both crews including non-judicial punishment for four Fitzgerald and four John S. McCain crewmembers.

Information regarding further actions, if warranted, will be discussed at the appropriate time.

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