USS Fitzgerald collides with merchant vessel

| June 17, 2017

The Navy reports that USS FITZGERALD, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, has collided with a merchant vessel in the Philippine Sea, about 50 miles off the coast of Japan.

As of this time, there have been two patients requiring medical evacuation. One was Cmdr. Bryce Benson, Fitzgerald’s commanding officer, who was transferred to U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka and is reportedly in stable condition. A second MEDEVAC is in progress. Other injured are being assessed. There are seven Sailors unaccounted for; the ship and the Japanese Coast Guard continues to search for them.

Although Fitzgerald is under her own power, USS Dewey (DDG 105) got underway this morning as well as several U.S. Navy aircraft, and will join Japanese Coast Guard and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopters, ships and aircraft to render whatever assistance may be required.

CNN reports that seven sailors are still missing;

The force of the impact could have thrown sailors overboard who were standing on the opposite side of the destroyer from where it was struck, he said.

That could account for the missing sailors, who may have been

Sailors could also been trapped in compartments below deck, Schuster said, pointing out that container ships have a bulbous bow below the water line, which could have plowed into the US warship.

According to a Navy news release from last month, Benson, the Fitzgerald’s commander, was new to the position, taking command of the vessel May 13 after serving as the ship’s executive officer, or second in command, since November 2015.

Category: Navy

Comments (70)

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  1. RGR 4-78 says:

    Hope and prayers for all involved.

  2. thebesig says:

    I was on a warship getting replenisheed by a Navy suply ship. Then, all of a sudden, the ship replenishing us drifted closer to us. The ship’s collision alarms went off.

    The other ship’s cranes came into view of our large screen display in CIC. At that point, OSCS, Vietnam Veteran, who talked about all this time Murphy paid his ship a visit in his 26 year career, said in a calm voice, “Ahhh hellll, heeerree weee gho again!”

    It was like watching that scene in Star Wars where one space ship was about to colide on the one that the camera was centered on from the inside… like slow motion and not much could be done. Then the ship shook as impact was made.

    I heard stories from the unrep detail about how fast Sailors were able to rush into a small portal to get inside the skin of the ship.

    This was 22 years ago.

    Hoping those 7 Sailors are found.

    • Sparks says:

      A friend of mine who was a Sailor told me of resupply and refuel ships being alongside his. He said it was an intense time of maximum focus by all concerned. I remember him saying when he was on the bridge once and the supply ship was to their port, that the commander of the watch or whomever it is who calls out such orders, kept calling out, “Steer no course to port. Steer no course to port.” Or something to that effect.

      • thebesig says:

        The one that’d call those orders out would generally be the Conning Officer. The Officer of the Deck would be the watch commander for the bridge. The ship’s Commanding Officer may take over conning, or issue orders to the Conning Officer, if the situation warranted it.

        The situation 22 years ago involved a faulty gyro with the supply ship. Our ship tried to shift to port/left to avoid collision, but the supply ship kept shifting to port/left, until it outpaced us.

      • Silentium Est Aureum says:

        And it’s to .1 degree.

  3. jonp says:

    besides the obvious “this won’t help someones career” comment why was a container ship that close to a Destroyer in the first place? The pictures look like the other ship ran headfirst into the Destroyer.

    • DUTCH says:

      Not only head first, but with apparent much less damage than the Fitzgerald. Take a look at the photos. The freighter appears to have pretty much only surface scrapes.

      • 11B-Mailclerk says:

        Vast difference in mass.

        Bow of any ship is a major strength point, and quite narrow.

    • AW1Ed says:

      Someone failed to follow nautical rules of the road in a crossing situation.

      “When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve the risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way and avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.”

      By the damage, it looks like the destroyer was the burdened vessel, and failed to cede the right of way to the cargo ship, resulting in the collision.

      Hope I’m wrong.

      • Club Manager says:

        The red/green nav lights on the bow of pleasure craft may be a better way to explain the rule of the water to these landlubbers. Or as we used to say in the CG Auxiliary, the “give way vessel”
        Regardless, both vessels had radar and the destroyer at least should have had lookouts posted in the busy sea lane.

        • AW1Ed says:

          The diagram makes it pretty clear.

          right of way

          • Club Manager says:

            The paper said the destroyer was hit on the “right” side. From the photo it appears to have been the starboard side placing the destroyer at fault. Regardless, the ship had to be showing lots of lights making me wonder if someone was not paying attention on the other vessel and if anyone on the bridge was paying attention to their radar.

      • thebesig says:

        What’s neat about the nautical rules of the road is that once it becomes evident that a collision is about to happen, both vessels automatically become the give way vessels and must avoid the collision regardless of who previously had the right of way. Unless things changed since I left the Navy.

        • Poetrooper says:

          But some ships are more agile than others. When I was learning to sail, I was taught that the vessel less able to maneuver, usually due to tonnage and the limited size of the channel, had right of way.

          What I can’t understand is why that destroyer, with the speed and maneuverability that class of ships has, couldn’t have made emergency moves to avoid the larger ship. Unless of course, they were hemmed in by other nearby vessels.

          Sounds to me like something on board the Fitzgerald that was being totally relied on failed and there was no human backup, bad ju-ju for that Captain’s career.

          • thebesig says:

            Although the nautical rules of the road takes into account which vessel is more maneuverable than the others, for example, vessel constrained by draft, the plot, linked in one of the other posts here, negates that.

            I was originally going to see this as the merchant ship being on “autopilot”, as we came across numerous instances of ships not responding to us, just cruising along on autopilot.

            However, the plot shows that there were people in the bridge of the merchant ship, and that they were actively maneuvering. Both ships would’ve had the ability to attempt to avoid collision when it became clear that one was going to happen, especially given the location both ships were at.

        • jonp says:

          I doubt a container ship is doing much of any avoidance given its size and mass.
          So, “If you see red give way” is that a simple explanation of the above picture? Always pass on the green side?

          • thebesig says:

            The plot, of the merchant ship’s track, shows that they were maneuvering, and would have been able to take sufficient action to avoid a collision when their own plots showed a collision course. They don’t have to be within the vicinity where it is eminent, just a continued plot showing that a collision was imminent.

            There were numerous instances when we changed our course, some of those instances based on my own calculations, well ahead of time just on the fact that a continued plot showed a potential collision, or near collision, if we maintained the course and speed we were on.

      • W2 says:

        Ding, ding, ding, ding! Winner, winner chicken dinner! FTZ was not supposed to be where she was when this happened. Count the people who should have kept this from happening, OOD, JOOD, BMOW, two of the three lookouts, CICWO, CIC watch sup, CIC surface plotter. Eight people who were either asleep at the switch or didn’t know WTF was going on. Per Navy Crimes, AUX One, Radio and two berthing compartments are flooded. The bulbous bow of the container ship punched a hole in the hull. For those of you who know DDG 51 flight ones you can appreciate how much water that is. On the O-2 / O-3 level the container ship’s anchor, anchor hawser and bow ripped through O’ country and the CO’s inport cabin as well as the AEGIS radar and electronics spaces. SLQ-32 sponson and antenna ripped off and SLQ-59 dangling by wires. What a tragedy, a needless tragedy.

        • 11B-Mailclerk says:

          I remain impressed that the ship was not broken in half and sunk.

          The nearest “land” comparison I can think of, is a Chevy getting T-Boned by a low-speed freight train.

          • W2 says:

            11B, my army brother from another mother! Here’s the deal, that ship stayed afloat because of compartmentalization. Aux one is a huge space, with an upper and lower level. The berthing compartments are on the 3rd deck and second deck and run athwatrships. Radio is also on the second deck. That ship took on a lot of water to flood those spaces, but the ship survived because the port side watertight bulkheads remained intact. The ship returned to Yoko early in the AM, after tugs were made up and it was towed in. Salvage divers were in the water this morning and we’ll get a better idea of the damage once the salvage divers patch the hole so we can put her in dry dock. A big repair to be sure.

            You’re right on your land analogy, she got t-boned by an LHA class sized ship. The crew did an excellent job with damage control. In the photos you can see fire hoses and every overboard discharge pumping water. She was under her own power making 2 knots, with the starboard shaft trailing. The DDG’s are all steel so they are rugged as hell. DDG 51 class can take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’. Bath built is best built for life.

            • W2 says:

              Of course, the loss of 7 sailors is tragic, but considering the collision occurred at 0230, it’s amazing the loss of life was not significantly higher. Even when you’re doing BS ops in Sagami wan, the sea can be a very dangerous place. Training, training, training.

      • desert says:

        I think you have it backwards! the destroyer was on the freighters starboard side!

  4. QM1 says:

    Prayers for the shipmates involved and missing.

    What the heck happened in the pilot house (QMOW, JOOD, Conning Officer, and OOD) the few minutes prior to the incident?

    • AW1Ed says:

      Prayers indeed.

      Something like this takes a team effort, QM1, just like an aircraft incident. The accident chain in action.

      • QM1 says:

        No blame intended. It could have been a mishap more on the Japanese container ship for all I know.

        I mean, I’m literally curious as to how the incident unfolded from a navigational standpoint.

        • AW1Ed says:

          No blame taken. Have a look at the AIS tracks on the link Anccpt provided. That cargo ship was all over the chart.

    • thebesig says:

      Add to that, what was occurring in Combat Information Center? (Tactical Action Officer, CIC Watch Officer, Surface Supervisor, maneuvering board, dead reckoning tracer, etc.) Closest Point of Approach (CPA) is one of the information that was calculated as soon as enough surface contact plots allowed for getting a track on something that the radar was tracking. As soon as CPA was within a certain amount of yards, avoiding courses solutions were drummed up and recommendations passed to the bridge.

      • jonp says:

        yeah, I’m sorry guys but I just don’t understand this, It’s a gigantic container ship that isn’t exactly a pleasure boat and a Navy Destroyer. No matter what was going on the Destroyer should not have been broad sided. The archive picture of The Commander (I thought a Captain was in charge?) has the worst photoshopped cover in the history of official photos.

        • Ex-PH2 says:

          The CO of a Navy ship is the Captain, regardless of actual rank.

          • jonp says:

            So a ship can be commanded by a Commander but has the honorary rank of Captain while doing it? Much like the tradition of not having 2 Captains on a ship so if one is a guest he is given a temporary promotion?

            • Guard Bum says:

              jonp, Captain in that instance is a title and not a rank. Just like a Navy Lieutenant can be a “Captain” of a ship or cutter but he wears the rail road tracks of a Lieutenant. Equally confusing, a Marine Captain who may be a Company Commander is often called “Skipper”. Now you know why I switched to the Army!!

              • thebesig says:

                Army guy here, too. :mrgreen: The only military vehicle that I “navigate” these days is a HMMWV/Humvee. :mrgreen: “Clear right!” :mrgreen:

  5. Mason says:

    Reminds me of the Melbourne-Evans collision.

    Hope and pray they find everyone OK.

  6. 26Limabeans says:

    A container ship makes a pretty huge radar target. Far above the surface clutter.
    How the f this happened is going to be interesting from an electronics perspective.
    God help the missing and injured.

  7. MustangCryppie says:

    Hope and pray all our shipmates are found safe and sound.

    This will be an interesting investigative report.

  8. Silentium Est Aureum says:

    Looks like the CO was one of those medevaced.

    • David says:

      In the Japanese navy I would suspect seppuku. His terminal OER will not be pretty; nor long in coming.

      Best hopes for all concerned.

  9. HMCS(FMF) ret says:

    To echo the sentiments of others here, I hope the missing are found and those that are injured recover soon.

    USNH Yokosuka was one of my old commands and one of my favorite. Good people (both Americans and Japanese) talking care of those that are forward deployed.

  10. OAE CPO USN Ret says: Left side of the page,

    From the Japanese news

    • HMCS(FMF) ret says:

      You can see the list in the pics – the DC crews must have been busting ass to get the damage under control and rigging pumps and possibly counterflooding to keep a bad situation from getting worse.

      One of the stories on the NHK website state that the container-ship had made a hard right then later a u-turn… I wonder if the container-ship turned into the path of the Fitzgerald at the last moment.

      • Anccpt says:

        It’s a strange movement pattern. Can any of our Navy types here explain?

        • AW1Ed says:

          AIS tracks don’t lie- the cargo ship was performing unpredictable maneuvers in a crowded shipping lane, most likely to adjust its arrival time in port.

          The investigation will hammer all this out.

          • Perry Gaskill says:

            I’m not a smart man, but wonder if it might be best to do wild-ass maneuvers outside shipping lanes. It’s not as if the Pacific Ocean is the parking lot at WalMart…

            • jonp says:

              Hard to hit something if your stopped but probably container ships considering the mass don’t like to stop once underway?

          • jonp says:

            I don’t care. It’s a Container Ship not a speed boat. It would take miles to turn around and the Destroyer should have been able to avoid it no matter what.
            Am I missing something? I was not in the Navy and don’t know much about ships except that mass takes time to move

            • IDC SARC says:

              “Am I missing something?”

              The fact there’s always an eventual exception despite all other factors?

              • jonp says:

                I thought someone with more experience on the water than I do, which wouldn’t take much, would chime in on something I am not getting about this.

                • 11B-Mailclerk says:


                  I think the folks with Nautical service are withholding significant comment until the investigation released information.

                  I think it a fair statement that the eventual report will be used as a teaching tool. The lesson plan has not yet been determined.

        • W2 says:

          Regardless of the container ships supposed erratic movements, the burdened vessel was DDG 62. They should have turned or slowed down; they did not have the right of way. I do not know the speed at which the vessels were going, but let’s assume 15 knots – at that speed there would have been plenty of time to determine what the merchant ship was doing and react correspondingly. This is the second accident involving poor seamanship in WESTPAC in the last three months, the first being the totally unnecessary grounding of USS ANTIETAM (CG 54). In the case of CG 54, they ripped blades off the screws and fuggled up the hubs and CRP systems on both shafts (thankfully no MRG or shafting damage). For FTZ, it appears, very unfortunately, that some of our shipmates lost their lives or were injured. 15 or 20 minutes of inaction, and BAM! you’re paying for it with sailor’s lives.

          • Underthewaterline says:

            USS Lake Champlain (CG57) had incident with S.Korean fishing vessel last month too.

  11. Green Thumb says:

    My thoughts to the Sailors and their families.

  12. Ex-PH2 says:

    My hope is that the missing sailors are found.

    I see no point in making judgment calls until this is resolved.

  13. Thunderstixx says:

    Prayers for the missing. I’m with you Ex-PH2, no judgement calls until the facts are in.
    Speculation is a no win for anyone, here or there.

  14. A Proud Infidel®™ says:

    Prayers out and hoping that the missing are found alive and well very soon!

  15. Sparks says:

    Hope all are found safe and well.

    I don’t understand how a war ship, such as this class of destroyer with its mass array of proximity sensors could be struck by another vessel of that size. But, I am sure there will be an investigation about who was on watch and doing what when it happened.

    Again, my first thoughts are for our Sailors and their safety.

    • 11B-Mailclerk says:

      Once upon a time, one of the frequent commenters here posted a declassified report on the Stark Incident.

      I was amazed and what went into producing the “Oh crap!’ events of that day, and what I managed to glean about shipboard operations from it. (Small as that gleaning was…)

      A small US Navy Ship is a very -big- complex system of men and machines.

      The Ocean is an extraordinarily unforgiving and deadly place.

      Naval customs and traditions are designed to facilitate the one and mitigate the other.

      Let’s wait to hear the result of an investigation by professionals. Our colleagues here will let us know how to interpret it.

      • HMCS(FMF) ret says:

        11B-Mailclerk – I Googled and posted the Start Incident report after a certain “someone” pontificated and postulated about what had happened.

        • 11B-Mailclerk says:

          Hopefully, Senior Chief, I drew the correct lesson which appeared to be “Educate your mind, before you run your mouth”.

          That report instructed me of just how miniscule is my understanding of things Navy.

  16. Sgt Fon says:

    i am curious as to who owned the shipping vessel. somthing about this just don’t add up

  17. IDC SARC says:

    “A collision at sea can ruin your whole day”~Thucydides

    Sympathies for all those involved.

  18. Fyrfighter says:

    Prayers for all involved, and hoping that the missing are found safe and sound! The investigation will be interesting for sure.

  19. Guard Bum says:

    Question for my nautical brothers and sister; I was reading that the container ship is being investigated for malfeasance…i.e., they said there are some reports the container ship veered course unexpectedly in very tight crowded shipping lanes. If that is the case would the Fitz still be at fault and would the Captain be cashiered?

    • Silentium Est Aureum says:

      Even if the container ship is found at fault, and even if the Fitzgerald did everything the could to avoid collision, things like this are what are known as, “Career limiting actions.”

      Even when the CO had only been in command for a month, as in this case.

  20. As we think about those casualties aboard the USS FITZGERALD, here is a link to some official United States Navy recruiting photographs taken during the Second World War:

  21. They’ve found the bodies of some of the missing sailors, but others are still missing.

  22. OWB says:

    My initial reaction remains somewhat unchanged – the original headlines suggest that the USS Fitzgerald was at fault. The subject (the USS Fitzgerald) committed the action of colliding with something. However, the pics and the story clearly show that the container ship rammed the Fitzgerald. How hard would it have been to use that as a headline instead of implying that the US Navy was automatically at fault? It may have been, but it’s a bit early to assign it. We will know much more after a proper investigation.

    Jonn didn’t make up that headline – it’s what was all over the net, so, I am certainly not castigating Jonn. Just sad that so many used it.