There should have been lookouts on watch on the port, starboard and stern of the destroyer Fitzgerald — sailors scanning the horizon with binoculars and reporting by headsets to the destroyer’s bridge. At 1:30 a.m. last Saturday, off the coast of Japan south of Tokyo, they could hardly have failed to see the 730-foot freighter ACX Crystal, stacked with more than 1,000 containers, as it closed in.Immediately after this incident the Fitzgerald 'fan club' appeared. It was an obvious damage control mission..
Radar officers working both on the bridge and in the combat information center below it should have spotted the freighter’s image on their screens, drawing steadily closer. And under standard protocol, the Fitzgerald’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, should have been awakened and summoned to the bridge to assure a safe passage long before the ships could come near each other.
But none of that happened. The Fitzgerald’s routine cruise in good weather through familiar, if crowded, seas ended in the most lethal Navy accident in years. Seven sailors lost their lives.
As investigators try to figure out what many veteran seamen describe as an incomprehensible collision, they have plenty of mysteries to unravel.
There should also be an audio recording from the bridge of the destroyer, like the harrowing tape of a 2012 collision between a different destroyer, the Porter, and an oil tanker, in which no one was injured.
Under strict orders not to talk about what they saw that night, the crew of the Fitzgerald is mostly keeping its counsel while grieving the loss of its shipmates. But one sailor, contacted via social media, offered what may endure as an epitaph for the accident.
“All I can say is,” the sailor wrote to The New York Times, “somebody wasn’t paying attention.”
On Friday, Rear Adm. Brian Fort, a veteran warship commander, was ordered to lead the Navy’s main investigation of the collision. The multiple investigations now underway — two by the Navy, one by the United States Coast Guard, others by the Japanese Coast Guard and the Crystal’s insurers — will probably provide answers. But even if the Crystal crew was asleep, Navy veterans say the far more maneuverable Fitzgerald will likely bear much of the blame.
“This is the kind of thing the Navy is brutally honest about,” said Bryan McGrath, who commanded a destroyer in the Atlantic from 2004 to 2006. “To the extent that the Fitzgerald did anything wrong, we’ll find out all about it, and there will be consequences.”
There are many signs that the Fitzgerald had almost no warning of the approaching collision: the fact that the captain was in his cabin and that no shipwide alarm had rousted sailors from their bunks. “As to how much warning they had, I don’t know,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Seventh Fleet, at a news conference on Sunday. “That’s going to have to be found out during the investigation.”
My final response to one of the commenters:
All comments available here
I still maintain some members of the Fitzgerald crew were harassing the ACX Crystal and miscalculated their final, utlimately, deadly move. This would explain the lack of usual warnings regarding the approaching Crystal.