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Navy Admiral on 17 deaths in ship collisions: Don’t forget that 280 ships that didn’t collide

U.S. Navy Adm. Philip S. Davidson at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City during Fleet Week, May 27, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Sgt. Rebecca L. Floto)
February 12, 2019

A top official in the U.S. military, Adm. Philip Davidson, tried to defend the branch over two deadly Navy destroyer collisions that killed a combined 17 sailors.

Davidson, head of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, was questioned before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, during which he asserted that despite the collisions that killed a total of 17 sailors, 280 other ships “weren’t having collisions,” The Washington Post reported.

Davidson’s exchange with Sen. Angus King begins at approximately 2:16:38 in the video below:

“We can’t forget one other thing,” said Davidson during his testimony. “These two collisions were a tragedy, there’s no doubt about it. And all of the senior leadership of the Navy feels an immense amount of accountability for that, I’ll come back to it. But the fact of the matter is 280-odd other ships weren’t having collisions.”

“Admiral, I’m sorry,” Sen. King interjected. “Airplanes are landing all over America and just because they aren’t all crashing doesn’t mean they don’t all need a high level of maintenance. To tell me that isn’t very convincing.”

“I think it was 40 years since we’ve had collisions of this nature,” King continued. “Are you saying that there were no failures that led to these collisions because there were 280 ships that didn’t have collisions? Isn’t that the standard? No collisions?” King asked.

“Yes sir, no collisions is the standard,” Davidson replied. “Certainly, it’s been 40 years since we had loss of life to that extent, but there had been collisions in the recent past.

“These units have been tested in combat and doing quite well,” Davidson added.

The hearing discussed the failures that led to the collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain with commercial ships in separate incidents during 2017.

“I urge you to read that study,” King said. “I’m suggesting that we had a preventable problem. There were multiple warnings. It wasn’t acted upon. I want to be reassured that it is being acted upon.”

In late 2017, the Navy completed investigations into the collisions and described them as avoidable, NPR reported at the time.

“Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents.” Adm. John Richardson said in a statement at the time.

Davidson took over the U.S. Pacific Command – renamed U.S. Indo-Pacific Command — in May 2018.

Davidson said the Navy is acting upon a 170-page report with 50 recommendations that he produced. He said the Navy is taking steps “to improve this situation in a way that eliminates the variance that I’m talking about.”