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Navy will file negligent homicide charges against 2 commanders in fatal collisions

Significant damage to the USS John S. McCain's hull resulted in flooding to nearby compartments, including crew berthing, machinery and communications rooms, in August 2017. Damage control efforts by the crew halted further flooding. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released)
January 16, 2018

The Navy is filing negligent homicide charges against two Naval commanders, as well as charges against other lower-ranking officers, including two lieutenants and one lieutenant junior grade. The Navy said the charges include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide.

The Navy issued a statement announcing the charges Tuesday night, shortly after reports began breaking the news.

There were two separate, deadly Pacific Fleet destroyer collisions last year involving the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald, and 17 sailors combined ended up dead ultimately due to the crews’ complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedure.

Navy Chief Spokesman Capt. Greg Hicks announced the charges, The Associated Press reported.

The Navy says it is going to file charges against two commanders. (Twitter)

The Navy will present charges at an Article 32 hearing.

It will then be determined if the persons accused will be court-martialed.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Navy announced that the Head of Naval Surface Force Pacific, Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, will resign from his position later this week, following a recommendation from Adm. James Caldwell that he be relieved. Rowden was expected to retire Feb. 2.

The Navy has already fired Rear Adm. Charles Williams, commander of Combined Task Force 70, and Capt. Jeffery Bennett, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 15, from their respective positions. The commanders were relieved in September due to lack of confidence in their ability to command, the Navy had said.

In August, 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 had announced. This came just after the Navy’s 7th Fleet announced that the commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief of the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald were relieved of their duties.

U.S. Navy Adm. John Richardson had called for a global fleet-wide operational pause of the U.S. Navy, after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore in August and 10 sailors died, as well as the deadly June incident when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a merchant ship off the coast of Japan and seven sailors died.

The Navy said on Tuesday:

On 30 October 2017, Admiral William Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, designated Admiral Frank Caldwell as the Consolidated Disposition Authority to review the accountability actions taken to date in relation to USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) collisions and to take additional administrative or disciplinary actions as appropriate.

After careful deliberation, today Admiral Frank Caldwell announced that Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) charges are being preferred against individual service members in relation to the collisions.

USS Fitzgerald: Courts-martial proceedings/Article 32 hearings are being convened to review evidence supporting possible criminal charges against Fitzgerald members. The members’ ranks include one Commander (the Commanding Officer), two Lieutenants, and one Lieutenant Junior Grade. The charges include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide.

USS John S. McCain: Additionally, for John S. McCain, one court- martial proceeding/Article 32 hearing is being convened to review evidence supporting possible criminal charges against one Commander (the Commanding Officer). The charges include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide. Also, one charge of dereliction of duty was preferred and is pending referral to a forum for a Chief Petty Officer.

The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses. All individuals alleged to have committed misconduct are entitled to a presumption of innocence.

Additional administrative actions are being conducted for members of both crews including non-judicial punishment for four Fitzgerald and four John S. McCain crewmembers.

“Hicks says the decision to file charges was made by Adm. Frank Caldwell, head of the Navy’s nuclear reactors program, who reviewed evidence of what caused the collisions,” The Associated Press reported. “The USS Fitzgerald collided with a commercial ship in waters off Japan in June, killing seven sailors. Ten sailors were killed when the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asia in August.”

No additional details were available at this time.

The 7th Fleet, which is based in Japan and is the United States’ largest forward-deployed fleet.