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Report: Navy must use pencil and paper to track hazards at sea, get more sleep in response to collisions

The USS Fitzgerald (U.S. Navy)
September 28, 2017

New orders went out to the U.S. Navy fleetwide this month that mandate sailors use pencils, paper and old-fashioned compasses to track hazards, among other new rules.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson recently called for a global fleet-wide operational pause of the U.S. Navy and a comprehensive review of Navy rules and procedures, after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore in August, killing 10 sailors, and the USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant ship off the coast of Japan in June, killing seven sailors.

And, the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet commander, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, was relieved from his post due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command, the Navy announced in late August.

The New York Times obtained a copy of the Navy’s new orders this week. The four-page directive was issued Sept. 15.

Aside from sailors tracking manually with pencils and paper, other orders include:

  • More sleep for sailors;
  • No more 100-hour work weeks;
  • Ships steaming in crowded waters will broadcast their positions;
  • Ships with crews that lack basic seamanship certification will likely stay in port until issues are addressed; and,
  • Reducing a captain’s discretion to define what rules the watch team follows if the captain isn’t present on the ship’s bridge, The Times reported.


The Times also reported:

All seemingly obvious standards, military officials say, except that the Navy only now is rushing the remedies into effect after two collisions in two months left 17 sailors dead, despite repeated warnings about the looming problems from congressional watchdogs and the Navy’s own experts dating to 2010.

The orders issued recently by the Navy’s top officer for ships worldwide, Vice Adm. Thomas S. Rowden, drew on the lessons that commanders gleaned from a 24-hour fleetwide suspension of operations last month to examine basic seamanship, teamwork and other fundamental safety and operational standards.

“Rowden is stomping his foot and saying, ‘We’ve got to get back to basics,’” said Vice Adm. William Douglas Crowder, a retired commander of the Seventh Fleet and a former deputy chief of naval operations, who reviewed the four-page directive issued on Sept. 15, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. “We ought to be doing this anyhow.”

Admiral Richardson is expected to announce additional guidance to the Navy in the next several days that builds off Admiral Rowden’s directive. “We took some time to stop, take a break and review our fundamentals, to ensure that we’re operating safely and effectively and to correct any areas that required immediate attention,” Admiral Richardson told the senators last week.