Ship owners to pay U.S. government for Fitzgerald collision

| January 13, 2019

uss fitz damageThe guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald was heavily damaged during a 2017 collision with a merchant vessel. (Navy)

By: Geoff Ziezulewicz
The owners of a massive merchant vessel that collided with the warship Fitzgerald in 2017, drowning seven sailors, have agreed to pay the U.S. government nearly $27 million as part of a settlement agreement.

The two-page deal, obtained by Navy Times, states that is it’s governed by Japanese law.

Both the Fitzgerald and the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal were transiting busy sea lanes off Japan before the 1:30 a.m. collision on June 17, 2017, when the container vessel struck the guided-missile destroyer’s starboard side.

The agreement states that the owners, Olympic Steamship Company, S.A., Panama, will pay about 2.9 billion Japanese yen to the U.S. government to settle potential claims because of their role in the maritime disaster.

That translates to roughly $26.7 million.

As is common in these agreements, the settlement notes that the deal is not an admission of “any liability, negligence, breach of duty, or wrongdoing” by the parties.


But in a November 2017 official account of the collision, a Navy report states during the 30 minutes before the crash, “neither FITZGERALD nor CRYSTAL took such action to reduce the risk of collision until approximately one minute prior to the collision.”

“Collisions at sea are rare and the relative performance and fault of the vessels involved is an open admiralty law issue,” that report states. “The Navy is not concerned about the mistakes made by CRYSTAL. Instead, the Navy is focused on the performance of its ships and what we could have done differently to avoid these mishaps.”

The rest of the article may be viewed here: The Navy Times

Tip of the old chapeau to Hondo for the link.

Category: Legal, Navy

Comments (64)

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  1. 5th/77th FA says:

    Ok, y’all help an old Redleg out here. I understand that the 27 mil is a drop in the bucket token amount for the value of the terrible loss, not so much for the ship, but for the innocent sailors. One thing for a sailor to get taken out during a sea battle; they knew the job could become dangerous when they took it. They also might have been briefed about the potential for a collision. Still….

    At a half a billion to repair/upgrade the Fitz, would it not make more sense to just build another one? No clue what one of these cost. Upon repair, how many sailors are going to want to sail on what may be considered a jinxed/repaired wreck? How many of us would buy a car that we knew had been in a major wreck, then gone thru a body & fender shop? Thanks!

    • NavyEODguy says:

      5th/77thFA. This is the best I can do. Not sure if will show up as a workable link or you will have to imbed.

      This ship, by all reasoning, should have broken in half and sunk. I give praise to the Sailors and their training in Damage Control.

      I served 8 years as a regular fleet Sailor before going into EOD. I give credit to the NCOs (Petty Officers) I worked with for pounding my ass when I balked about learning Damage Control.

      One sentence from my supervisor turned it all around; “any ship can lieterally burn to the waterline. Do you want to be on THAT ship.”

    • AW1Ed says:

      5/77, allow me.

      1) …make more sense to just build another one?

      Nope. Time is a factor.
      Keel Date: 36 to 72 months after award date
      Launch Date: 11 to 18 months after keel laid
      Christen Date: 2 to 3 months after launch
      Delivery Date: 12 to 24 months after launch
      Commission Date: 3 to 6 months after delivery

      So we’re talking 64 months Keel to Commission, at a minimum. And it’s never minimum.

      Each case is of course different, and must be evaluated on a cost/benefit analysis. In this case it’s much more cost effective, time wise, to repair than replace.

      2) …want to sail on what may be considered a jinxed/repaired wreck?

      I would have no problem serving on a repaired vessel, or flying in a repaired aircraft (which I have done. lots). She still has to go through testing and qualifications, just as any ship of her class would.
      Of course the crew will be aware of the collision and the aftermath, and respect the fallen. I’m sure there’s a plaque mounted with the names of those lost, as a memorial. This actually could be a point of pride for the crew- they tried but couldn’t sink us. I can easily see that.

      Sorry for the loquacious reply, it’s the Navy instructor in me. Anyway, hope this helped my Nautically Challenged Delta Whiskies and Whiskettes.

      • 11B-Mailclerk says:

        Except for Utah and Arizona, the savaged battleships of Pearl Harbor were refloated, repaired, and returned to the War.

        Yorktown was badly damaged and nearly sunk at Coral Sea. She was repaired in time for Midway.

        No lack of eager Sailors for those post-repair crews.

        My reading of various works, is that the Ship brought back form disaster is generally seen as a “lucky” ship. Do our Navy posters concur?

        • AW1Ed says:

          Absolutely. I recall a WWII sunken submarine brought back from the depths, repaired and sent back to fight in the Pacific. After several bouts with Japanese destroyers, the crew, who were originally leery about the boat, started bragging on her- she’d been sunk once already, and won’t do so again.
          May even be true, but I don’t doubt the attitude.

          • The Other Whitey says:

            USS Squalus, SS-192. Sunk in a training accident off Connecticut in 1939 with the loss of 26 lives. A rescue effort led by CDR Swede Momsen using the rescue/salvage ship USS Falcon and Squalus’s sister ship USS Sculpin saved 33 men. Four Navy divers received the Medal of Honor for their actions during the Squalus rescue, and Momsen got the Navy Cross.

            She was refloated over the next few months and would eventually be recommissioned as USS Sailfish (the name change due to a belief that Squalus was an unlucky name; Sailors aboard Sailfish were threatened with discipline for even uttering the prior name—some tried to get away with calling her “Squailfish” instead). Sailfish was active in the Pacific throughout the war, sinking eight Japanese merchant ships, though the Navy only officially credited her with four, and getting the first carrier kill by a US sub when she sent HIMS Chuyo to the bottom. In a bit of tragic irony, 21 survivors from USS Sculpin were being held aboard the carrier; only one survived. Sailfish stood by to rescue aviators off the east coast of Formosa/Taiwan in October of ‘44, where she won a running gun battle with a Japanese subchaser attempting to pick up down American airmen, sinking the subchaser and successfully completing the rescue. She survived the war and also picked up a Presidential Unit Citation.

            • AW1Ed says:

              I should just put you on speed dial, TOW.

            • CCO says:

              Have you read “Those Terrible Hours” by Peter Maas about the rescue and salvage of the USS Squalus? It also covers some of Admiral Mumson’s career.

              • AW1Ed says:

                Famous “Mumson Lung” an early rebreather used as emergency submarine escape gear before and during WWII.

              • Lthrnck1775 says:

                Yes I have …fantastic read and should be a movie. Had no idea that ‘Swede’ Momson invented pretty much all things diving ! lol


                • The Other Whitey says:

                  There was a TV movie back in ‘01 called “Submerged” about the Squalus disaster with Sam Niell as Momsen.

              • The Other Whitey says:

                It’s on my list. There’s also “A Tale of Two Subs” covering the careers and connection of Squalus/Sailfish and Sculpin.

        • Poetrooper says:

          “My reading of various works, is that the Ship brought back form disaster is generally seen as a “lucky” ship. Do our Navy posters concur?”

          No idea, but as ex-Army Airborne I do know it doesn’t apply to parachutes…

      • 5th/77th FA says:

        I knew my hero could come thru for me. You know how it is with us dumbasses that would bypass 4 hots (counting mid rats) and a cot for the privilege of sleeping in a mud puddle. We’re a little slow but we used to be able to calculate a TOT with a slide rule and a stubby pencil on the back of a C Rat match book. You’ll be my dog if you never leave the porch to hunt.

        Didn’t really think about the time factor these days. Got a Lady Friend that was a design engineer. Among other things she used to do ocean barges. She said it would take up to two years just to build a floating steel box. Y’all may recall we had talked before about how quick some of the battle damaged ships from WWII were turned around and back into the fight in hardly no time (comparatively). And then too, down here all of the Liberty Ships that were being launched at a blistering pace from Brunswick. Makes one wonder if we could gear up our manufacturing capability like that again, quick enough to make a difference.

        I kinda like your instructional manner. Give me the facts in a logical concise sequence. I can comprehend and grasp it better. I used to have a mind like a steel trap. Now it’s more like a rusty bucket with holes in it and no handle.


        • AW1Ed says:

          Born in North Carolina and speak ‘country’ well, but you got me with:

          “You’ll be my dog if you never leave the porch to hunt.”

          • 5th/77th FA says:

            Kinda sorta an original jcism. A prostitution of “that dog won’t hunt/that dog won’t even leave the porch, but he’s still my favorite dog.” Believe it or not, it’s a compliment.

            The boys in the Regiment started a list of the jcisms. They claim it’ll make me more infamous some day. Some of the ‘isms have been used on coozies, bumper stickers, coffee/beer mugs, and tee shirts.

      • X-OTM1(SW) says:

        I served on the USS Cole after the bombing as part of the rebuilding crew in Mississippi and retired off her in Jan 2005. My wife wasn’t to happy about my assignment. But I told her it was like in the book/movie, World According To Garp, when Garp and his wife where looking at a house and the airplane crashed into it. Garp said they will buy the house, because the worst thing that would ever happen to the house just happened.

        • AW1Ed says:

          The military experience on this site is, “remarkable” doesn’t cut it, “awesome” is trite and overused. I like “endless.”

  2. QMC says:

    No matter how much anyone financially pays, it won’t bring back those sailors lost in the collision, nor will it be enough to compensate what their families are going through.

  3. Mason says:

    Hope that goes to the families of those lost and not to lining some contractor’s pockets for the repairs.

  4. FatCircles0311 says:

    Odd. I thought the US Navy was in the wrong having incompetents at the helm? Also such a pittance amount what exactly is it for?

    • 26Limabeans says:

      environmental damage to the ocean?

    • AW1Ed says:

      Seems there was culpability on both vessels, and the naval court fined the owners of CRYSTAL for their part in the collision.
      From the article:

      Whether the settlement money will actually go to Fitz repairs remains unclear but it’s a small sum compared to what the Navy is paying to mend the 25-year-old warship.

      The Navy has awarded roughly $533 million in contracts and modifications for repair and modernization of the ship since September 2017, according to Pentagon contract listings.

      I wouldn’t have any problems serving on a repaired vessel. She would still have to pass inspections and be tested prior to returning to service.

      • 5th/77th FA says:

        No doubt that AW1Ed wouldn’t have any problems serving on a repaired vessel. Hell even Navy SEALS got to have heros.

        • AW1Ed says:

          Dude… I know that was in jest.

          Yeah, I wore fins and jumped out of perfectly good aircraft, even had every intention of getting back into that aircraft with my new best friend.

          Absolutely no way would I compare myself to a SEAL, or EOD. Just no comparison.

          Besides, I know some of those guys. They’re all stone cold crazy, and I’m glad they’re on our side.

    • Frank says:

      The swabbies got all excited when they saw the ship headed towards them.
      They thought they were about to score the biggest Crystal meth deal since Motley Crue stopped touring…

      “There’s crystal on the starboard bow!”
      “Fcuk yeah!”

  5. 26Limabeans says:

    Probably would not even pay for the tow back to port.

  6. Frank says:

    To think that the Chinese are wasting all that money on hi-tech weapons when a big fat Panamanian registered rust bucket would do.

    • AW1Ed says:

      Frank, I have only one nerve left.

      And you’re on it.

      Lighten up.

    • NHSparky says:


      Always one asshole who has the right to remain silent, but not the ability.

      Put him in a casualty situation and watch this fuckstick shit himself and curl up in the corner.

      • AW1Ed says:

        NHS, maintaining an even strain here. Maybe Frank will heed my gentle warning. Maybe he won’t. I believe he thinks he’s poking fun at us squids, and I’m fine with that. Be disappointed if it didn’t happen.

        He doesn’t know he’s treading on sacred ground, where we remember our brothers and sisters lost at sea. There by the grace of God go us.

        • 5th/77th FA says:

          yep. This boy is more than kinda sorta out of line. We do take this loss of Brothers and Sisters seriously. More so, as you said, for a swabbie. The sea will try very hard to kill you.

    • FC2(SW) Ron says:

      Hey Frank, FUCK YOU!

  7. jonp says:

    I am not a sailor and I don’t play one on tv but it seems to me that our Ships should at least be able to get out of the way of stuff and not hit it. The fault is squarely on the Navy’s Crew who should have seen this coming and avoided it

    • NHSparky says:

      Depends. It was 2 am. Ever been in the middle of the ocean on a darkened ship.

      Disorienting ain’t the fucking word.

      And there’s also that pesky question of who is the burdened vessel. Even the vessel who is not burdened to maneuver is required to maintain course and speed.

      But yeah, seems shit like this seems to happen a lot more that we don’t put SWOS through Baby SWO school in Newport anymore.

      • jonp says:

        No,I have not although I did take a cruise once 😉

        I said I wasn’t a sailor but I like to think our naval vessels have all of the gear necessary to see a giant friggen freighter no matter the time of day and avoid the damn thing.

    • AW1Ed says:

      The fault is squarely on the Navy’s Crew who should have seen this coming and avoided it.

      Said the man who wasn’t there.

      • jonp says:

        nope,sure wasn’t but then again,are you saying no-one on that ship was responsible for keeping it out of harms way? In that case why have a night watch. Everyone can just go to bed at 2100 and put the ship on auto pilot

  8. FC2(SW) Ron says:

    What I’m curious about and haven’t really heard is, was there a fore and aft look out? I stood those watches at sea in the eighties when the ship’s deckapes were short handed and Second Division had to man up. Every ship light we saw was a “contact” with a bearing and distance relayed to the OOD/COC.

    When NAVSat was becoming the new hotness, the QM’s on the bridge still tracked our position using paper charts, pencils and plotting tools.

    I guess my question is, are we now relying solely on electronic gee whiz stuff and putting our basic Navy skills away?

    • AW1Ed says:

      Human error and the accident chain. There’s lots of documentation out there, but this is as good as most.

      • NEC338x says:

        I am reminded of the boiler explosion on the Iwo during Desert Shield. Sometimes you can have a professional, high function watch team and once a key failure happens, the cascading casualty is unavoidable.

        I’ve read the various reports and updates as they were posted at USNI. Lots of lessons to be learned here.

      • FC2(SW) Ron says:

        Thanks Ed.

      • NHSparky says:

        One thing that caught my attention in the report was that the JOOD actually made a recommendation to maneuver well before it became an issue, but was overridden by the OOD because it would, “Complicate the contact picture.”

        Seems to me that maneuver, then regaining track once the Crystal was >5000 yes CPA, would have been a lot less complicated than trying to dodge a merchant doing God-knows-what (look at the track before collision to get an idea.)

      • STGCS Ret says:

        My 2 cents Constant Bearing Decreasing Range

        • NHSparky says:

          I learned as a lowly ET3 (nuke, no less) left contacts draw left, right draw right, anything else, let someone know you have a potential problem.

          • AW1Ed says:

            Used to teach our nugget Aircrew when looking at position lights, “Red on the right, die of fright.”

            Seemed to stick pretty well.