Navy faults US warships in summer Pacific collisions that killed 17 sailors, officials say

A new report by the U.S. Navy into collisions involving two of its warships found both American ships at fault, Navy officials told Fox News.

Both collisions were “avoidable” according to the report released Wednesday morning, the official said. 

"Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said. "We must do better." 

The guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a large container ship on June 17 off the coast of Japan killing seven sailors. Already the captain, the second-in-command and the top senior enlisted sailor have been relieved of their duties. 

According to the International Rules of the Road for vessels on the high seas, USS Fitzgerald was in a crossing situation with the cargo ship, Crystal off to Fitzgerald’s starboard or right side.  Fitzgerald was required to maneuver, but did not until it was too late.

“In the 30 minutes leading up to the collision, neither Fitzgerald nor Crystal took such action to reduce the risk of collision until approximately one minute prior to the collision,” the report said.

Fitzgerald’s Officer of the Deck “intended to take no action” in the minutes leading up to the collision until realizing it was “too late,” the report said. 

“The Officer of the Deck, the person responsible for safe navigation of the ship, exhibited poor seamanship by failing to maneuver as required, failing to sound the danger signal and failing to attempt to contact CRYSTAL on Bridge to Bridge radio. In addition, the Officer of the Deck did not call the Commanding Officer as appropriate and prescribed by Navy procedures to allow him to exercise more senior oversight and judgment of the situation,” the report said.


In late August, another guided-missile destroyer, USS John S. McCain, collided with a merchant vessel, this time an oil tanker near Singapore. Ten American sailors drowned when their berthing spaces flooded.

Before the deadly collision, the bridge team aboard McCain became distracted by a false alarm signaling the warship had lost steering, according to an official briefed on the report. 

“It made a bad situation worse,” the official said, adding the destroyer was in a busy shipping lane at the time of the collision.

"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."

Both McCain’s commanding officer and the executive officer, the second in command, were relieved of command earlier this month.

The USS John S. McCain is named after Sen. John McCain’s father and grandfather, both admirals in the Navy.

In September, the top two officers of the Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet – where both warships were based -- were fired.


The Navy is currently without two warships capable of shooting down North Korean ballistic missiles, with the loss of McCain and Fitzgerald.

A second and more “comprehensive” investigation into a string of mishaps this year -- including a Navy warship running aground in Tokyo Bay in late January and spilling over 1,000 gallons of hydraulic fluid into Japanese waters -- is expected Thursday.

The Navy’s top officer, Adm. John M. Richardson, is set to hold a press conference at the Pentagon on Thursday as well. 

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews