Interesting perspective on the USS Fitzgerald collision

One of the good things about the Web is gathering perspectives from readers who know a lot more than the author.

A comment on “Sleeping Sailors on U.S.S. Fitzgerald Awoke to a Calamity at Sea” (New York Times) looks like a great example of this.

[from Dan Weiss] As an Officer of the Deck (OOD) on USN destroyers for 5 years I stood hundreds of mid-watches (0000-0400) and have the following comments based strictly on what’s been published so far. The tracks indicate Crystal was the privileged vessel, required to maintain course/speed, while Fitzgerald was the burdened vessel, required to change course/speed so as to let Crystal pass ahead. Approximately twenty-five percent of Fitzgerald’s crew of about 300 would have been on watch including Bridge/OOD, multiple radar personnel, and lookouts. In an open water crossing situation Crystal would see Fitzgerald’s “green” starboard running light, while Fitzgerald woud see Crystal’s “red” port running light, meaning Fitzgerald is burdened and must yield. The CO’s I served under were routinely awakened many times a night for these situations and their sea cabins were adjacent to the bridge. The biggest challenge was when we were the privileged vessel and the burdened vessel failed to yield. Merchant ships are/were notorious for sailing on “Iron Mike” (auto pilot) and just kept coming. That doesn’t appear to be the case based on what I’ve gleaned so far. The collision on the starboard side puts the burden of proof on Fitzgerald. Hopefully there will be mitigating circumstances explaining the inexplicable. My sincere condolences to all.

The event surrounding this is sad, of course.

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7 Comments »

  1. Presidentpicker

    June 19, 2017 @ 7:38 pm

    1

    The officer (or reporter) forgot to add that the stand on vessel still has to do everything possible to avoid the collision. Both ships may be at fault here

  2. RS

    June 20, 2017 @ 5:13 am

    2

    According to a USN relative (many years on destroyers) it’s also mandatory for USN vessels (at least the smaller ones) to maneuver in advance of the encounter such that they never become the vessel required to maintain course. That is, they maneuver to maintain the right to maneuver.

    There’s so much that seems wrong here. Why wasn’t the captain on the bridge, awakened well before the emergency when the cargo ship came close? The story will emerge as the investigation grinds on.

  3. Joe Rouse

    June 20, 2017 @ 1:55 pm

    3

    4 things I know.
    1) The captain was asleep at the time of the collision. He was in his bunk and injured upon impact.
    2) The container ship was on autopilot.
    3) The Fitzgerald is at fault.
    4) Because of COLREGS both Captains will be blamed

    What I don’t know.
    1) Did the OOD try and wake the captain?
    2) How did the various watches aboard the Fitzgerald fail to see the Crystal?
    3) If they did see the Crystal, did the OOD decide that he could accelerate and pass in front of the Crystal? (The Fitzgerald is a faster ship and highly maneuverable.) video link: https://youtu.be/5Vih4tGmqjs

  4. Thomas Dooley

    June 20, 2017 @ 7:37 pm

    4

    The analysis assumes that this was a crossing situation, with the Fitzgerald being the give-way vessel. An alternate possibility is that the Crystal was an overtaking vessel, (almost) passing on the starboard side of the Fitzgerald. As an overtaking vessel, the Crystal would have to keep clear of the Fitzgerald. The damage to the port side of the bow of the Crystal is consistent with the “overtaking” theory. We’ll need to see the track of the Fitzgerald to know which of these possibilities is correct.

  5. paul kramarchyk

    June 20, 2017 @ 7:38 pm

    5

    My guess, Fitzgerald most at fault. Distracted piloting (did they have cell service)? Sleeping on watch? Dereliction of duty. Someone will go to prison for this. And it may be the Commanding Officer (captain) and OOD.

    fyi.. I have 6yrs USN (1968-74), ballistic missile submarine (SSBN 599, ~128 crew). My job was way aft in the engineering spaces (reactor, propulsion systems). But once a week or so I’d get slept out and hang out in control (equivalent to the bridge surface ship). There are always 5 qualified people on watch in control. Any of the 3 senior watch standers can pretty much replace the other 2. Three section watch rotation: 6 hours on, 12 hrs off. All ship’s clocks set to zulu (GMT). Control space rigged for red local night. White lights during local day. No sleeping.

  6. Dan Weiss

    June 22, 2017 @ 8:58 pm

    6

    I am the original poster; 5 years as USN DD OOD. The most current info I’m aware of is this was an Overtaking situation with Crystal (Burdened) overtaking Fitzgerald (Privileged) to Fitzgerald’s Starboard/Right side. Crystal’s CO is on record that he made a “left” course correction intending to pass behind. That was a poor decision; always turn away from the Beast. A turn to starboard “probably” solves this problem.
    The single most important question is: Why was the CO in his sea cabin when his ship was “in extremis?” I don’t have a clue, do You?

  7. philg

    June 22, 2017 @ 9:21 pm

    7

    Thanks, Dan. It is experts like you who make the Internet great!

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