Secret Probe Into USS Fitzgerald Disaster Revealed a Ship in Appalling Shape

The events behind the collision between a Navy destroyer and commercial ship make for troubling reading.

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Getty ImagesKAZUHIRO NOGI

A scathing internal U.S. Navy report—that was never released to the public—details an appalling lack of professionalism, failure to adhere to procedure, and broken equipment on the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald before its fatal collision with a commercial ship in 2017. The collision killed seven sailors and damaged the 9,000-ton ship.

The Navy Times received a copy of the report, authored by Rear Admiral Brian Fort and completed just eleven days after the collision. The report details what amounts to a dysfunctional destroyer and crew, particularly with regard to navigation procedures, that almost assured a fatal collision like the one that on June 17, 2017.

USS Fitzgerald
Damage sustained by USS Fitzgerald during its collision with ACX Crystal.
Getty ImagesU.S. Navy

, the Fitzgerald’s Voyager Management System, a navigational aid designed to assist the crew in transiting busy waters, was broken and cannibalized to keep other systems running. The ship had no quartermaster chief petty officer to assist with navigation, and the ship’s leadership was described as “dysfunctional.” Standing orders were violated and a personal distrust issue between officers on the bridge and the combat information center (CIC) prevented communication between the two. That's a very serious issue, as during “provides a backup to the watchstanders on the bridge maneuvering the ship.”

Other issues plagued the Fitzgerald’s sailors. The high tempo of operations with the Japan-based 7th Fleet gave crews little chance for rest or training between deployments. The report also describes an environment in which the crew’s bureaucratic obligations (the mountains of paperwork) probably distracted them from safe operation of the ship.

USS Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald in drydock at Yokosuka, Japan, prior to returning to the United States for repairs.
Getty ImagesU.S. Navy

The Fitzgerald’s captain, executive officer, and command master chief were all relieved of duty after the collision, as was the commander of Destroyer Squadron 15 and Task Force 70. The commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet retired ahead of schedule, as did the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The ship’s commanding officer and tactical action officer .

The USS Fitzgerald was transported by the ship carrier M/V Transshelf to Pascagoula, Mississippi, for repairs. The repairs are expected to be finished in mid-2019, after which the ship will undergo extensive testing and trials to ensure it is ready to rejoin the fleet.

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