The U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet announced that the commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief of the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald have been relieved of their duties, and several other watch standers are being held accountable for the deadly crash that killed seven sailors on June 17.
The ACX Crystal, a large Philippine-flagged merchant ship, ran into the USS Fitzgerald off the coast of Japan in June, and seven sailors died. It had been reported that the freighter was on autopilot at the time of the collision, but also that the freighter sent warning signals, and that the USS Fitzgerald might have failed to respond to communications.
“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,” the Seventh Fleet said Thursday.
Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, Commander of the Seventh Fleet, made the announcement, and the Navy also released its 41-page supplement to its investigation of the incident.
While it condemned poor seamanship, the Seventh Fleet also said “[…] 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.”
Of those top officers relieved of their duties, the Seventh Fleet said:
“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. Cmdr. 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.”