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Navy destroyer involved in deadly 2017 collision bound for San Diego after more than two years of repairs

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart/U.S. Navy)

The guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald — where seven sailors died in a collision with a cargo ship in 2017 — is steaming toward San Diego after more than two years of repairs.

The Fitzgerald left Pascagoula, Miss., on June 13. The ship most recently was in the vicinity of the Panama Canal, According to uscarriers.net.

Navy officials declined to say when the ship will arrive in San Diego.

San Diego was the Fitzgerald’s first home port when it entered service in the mid-1990s. In 2004, the ship switched home ports to Yokosuka, Japan, where it remained until the 2017 collision.

At 1:30 a.m. on June 17, 2017, the ship collided with the cargo ship ACX Crystal, a much larger vessel, off the coast of Japan. The cargo ship speared the starboard, or right-hand, side of the Fitzgerald, causing it to spin off course and begin flooding.

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Seven sailors drowned in a berthing compartment, including Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Sibayan, a 23-year-old sailor from Chula Vista.

The ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was asleep in his quarters when the collision occurred. His stateroom was crushed by the Crystal, and he was among the injured.

After the collision, the Navy charged Benson and another officer in connection with the crash but abandoned the prosecutions in 2019.

About two months after the Fitzgerald collision, another Yokosuka-based guided-missile destroyer — the USS John S. McCain — collided with a large civilian shipping vessel, this time off the coast of Singapore. Ten sailors died.

An in-depth investigation by ProPublica found that ships in the Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet were in disrepair and its sailors were often overworked.

The Fitzgerald sustained extensive damage to its hull and superstructure. During its more than two years of repairs, the ship also received upgrades to some of its systems, making it “one of our nation’s most capable warfighting platforms,” the Navy said in a statement.

Its crew recently spent more than two weeks in a “pre-movement sequester,” the Navy said, in an effort to prevent the new coronavirus from coming on board. The Fitzgerald will begin crew training and certifications once it arrives in San Diego.

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© 2020 The San Diego Union-Tribune