NTSB issues final report on deadly USS Fitzgerald collision

Written by Nick Blenkey
View of damage to USS Fitzgeralg

Seven Fitzgerald sailors died in collision, three others suffered serious injuries.

In its just released final report on its investigation of the June 17, 2017 collision between the USS Fitzgerald and the containership ACX Crystal, the National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of collision was the failure of the Fitzgerald’s bridge team to take early and substantial action to avoid collision as the give-way vessel in a crossing situation.

Contributing was ineffective communication and cooperation among the Fitzgerald crew on the bridge and in the combat information center (CIC), and the Fitzgerald commanding officer’s insufficient planning for the hazards of the vessel’s intended transit. Also contributing was the Navy’s ineffective oversight of the Fitzgerald in the areas of operations scheduling, crew training, and fatigue mitigation. Another factor contributing to the accident was the ACX Crystal watch officer’s lack of early detection of the Navy vessel and insufficient actions to avoid collision once in doubt as to the destroyer’s intentions.

The collision happened shortly after the 504.5 foot-long, U.S. Navy destroyer Fitzgerald, with 315 people on board, departed its homeport of Yokosuka, Japan, bound for the Philippines. The Fitzgerald was traveling southbound at about 22 knots in the bay of Sagami Nada off Japan’s Honshu Island, while the 730 foot-long, Philippine-flag, containership ACX Crystal with 21 people on board was traveling east-northeast at about 18.5 knots in the bay, headed to Tokyo, from Nagoya, Japan.

Neither vessel radioed the other as the distance between the ships continuously decreased. Actions taken by watch officers to avoid impact seconds before the collision were too late and the ships collided. Seven Fitzgerald sailors died in the accident, and three others suffered serious injuries.

No injuries were reported aboard the ACX Crystal. The destroyer sustained extensive damage to its forward starboard side and the ACX Crystal sustained damage to its bow.

The NTSB was the lead federal agency for the investigation and delegated its authority to the U.S. Coast Guard to gather documents and perform interviews on behalf of the NTSB. The NTSB developed the analysis and probable cause based on evidence gathered by the Coast Guard and additional documentation provided by the Navy.

Marine Accident Report 20/02 contains 11 findings, seven identified safety issues, four safety recommendations and the probable cause of the accident.

Identified safety issues include:

  • the insufficient training of the Fitzgerald’s crew;
  • Fitzgerald crew fatigue;
  • the practice of U.S. Navy vessels of not broadcasting AIS signals;
  • failure of both ships’ crews to take actions in accordance with the Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea;
  • insufficient oversight and directive by the U.S. Navy;
  • the commanding officer’s inadequate assessment of the transit route’s hazards;
  • the commanding officer’s decision to not augment bridge watchstanding personnel with a more experienced officer.

As a result of its investigation the NTSB issued three safety recommendations to the Navy and one to Sea Quest Management Inc., the operator of the ACX Crystal.

Two safety recommendations issued to the Navy call for review and revision of fleetwide training and qualification requirements for officers of the deck related to the collision regulations, as well as review and revision of bridge resource management training. The third recommendation to the Navy seeks the broadcast of automatic identification system information when in the vicinity of commercial vessel traffic, at all times, unless such broadcast could compromise tactical operations.

The safety recommendation issued to Sea Quest Management Inc., seeks additional training for navigation officers on collision avoidance regulations, radar and automatic radar plotting aids.

Download the full NTSB report HERE

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