(ABC)– Poor decisions and lax standards made by the crews of the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain contributed to the deadly collisions last summer that killed 17 sailors, according to a new Navy investigation.
“Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents,” Admiral John Richardson, the chief of Naval operations, said in a statement. “We must do better.”
On June 17, the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine container ship off the coast of Japan, killing seven sailors and injuring three others.
On Aug. 21, the destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker just outside the port of Singapore. That collision killed 10 sailors and injured five others.
The rarity of the back-to-back collisions prompted the Navy to conduct a comprehensive review of its operations worldwide. The top leadership of both ships were subsequently relieved of their commands.
“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,” said Richardson. “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.”
The Navy investigation found that the “watch teams” on the Fitzgerald’s bridge failed to carry out basic Navy safety and navigation procedures, and they “failed to adhere to well-established protocols put in place to prevent collisions,” the investigation found.
That included not filing an appropriate scheme for transiting through the busy waterways outside of Tokyo and notifying the ship’s commanding officer when it approached nearby ships as required by Navy regulations. The ship’s captain was asleep in his quarters when the deadly collision occurred at 1:30 a.m. local time, according to the investigation.
The McCain collision was also deemed to have been avoidable and and “resulted primarily from complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedural compliance,” the investigation found.
“A major contributing factor to the collision was sub-standard level of knowledge regarding the operation of the ship control console,” particularly regarding the ship’s steering system prior to the collision, according to the investigation.
It also found that the watch team’s response to a perceived loss of steering made the situation worse.
Meanwhile, the crew’s decisions were compounded by an earlier decision by the ship’s commanding officer to delay the additional manning of key positions in the engine room and rear steering needed to transit busy waterways.
Proper manning at those stations could have corrected the mistakes made by the watch team on the bridge, the investigation determined.