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Report: USS Fitzgerald's Deficiencies Were Worse than Acknowledged

According to a new report first released by Navy Times, the U.S. Navy's public assessment of the USS Fitzgerald collision did not disclose the full extent of the deficiencies on board the ill-fated destroyer.

In the early hours of June 17, 2017, the Fitzgerald's bridge team was navigating at 20 knots in heavy traffic on the approaches to Tokyo. Due to a loss of situational awareness, she collided with the merchant vessel ACX Crystal, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to the destroyer and killing seven sailors. 

According to the Navy's public report, in the hours prior to the collision, Fitzgerald's bridge team did not did not maintain a proper lookout, broadcast AIS, properly tune their radar or follow VTS lanes. They also failed to communicate with other vessels or with their own ship's Command Information Center (CIC), even in extremis, and did not sound the general alarm until after the collision.

While these factors were concerning enough to prompt the Navy to remove all personnel involved - and to charge the Fitzgerald's commander with negligent homicide - the new report suggests that there was much more. 

A separate Judge Advocate General investigation was conducted in parallel, and its report was used for the Navy's own legal and disciplinary purposes. Its contents were not intended to see publication. According to this report, conducted by Rear Adm. (lower half) Brian Fort and first made public by Navy Times, the Fitzgerald's state of readiness had reached unusually low levels.

Upon boarding Fitzgerald after the accident, Rear Adm. Fort found the destroyer's CIC in disarray, filled with personal items, workout gear, trash, food waste and bottles of urine. Much of its high-tech equipment was broken, and the work orders to fix it had gone unfilled for months. On the bridge, the AIS system and the radar's auto-track (ARPA) feature were so unreliable that Fitzgerald's watchstanders did not use them. 

Based on interviews with Fitzgerald's crew, Fort concluded that morale was low and discipline was lax. "Procedural compliance by bridge watchstanders is not the norm onboard FTZ, as evidenced by numerous, almost routine, violations of the CO's standing orders," he wrote. Fort's team also administered Rules of the Road tests to Fitzgerald's officers and found that they averaged about 60 percent; three out of 22 scored above 80 percent. The minimum passing score for licensed American mariners is 90 percent. 

Fort also noted that Commander Bryce Benson was not on the Fitzgerald's bridge at the time of the collision, even though he had only been in command for a few days and had never sailed the Fitzgerald out of the busy waters off Tokyo. “It is inexplicable that neither Benson nor [his XO] were on the bridge for his first outbound Yokosuka transit as CO, at night, in close proximity to land, and expecting moderately dense fishing and merchant traffic,” Fort wrote. 

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According to a new report first released by Navy Times, the U.S. Navy's public assessment of the USS Fitzgerald collision did not disclose the full extent of the deficiencies on board the ill-fated destroyer.

In the early hours of June 17, 2017, the Fitzgerald's bridge team was navigating at 20 knots in heavy traffic on the approaches to Tokyo. Due to a loss of situational awareness, she collided with the merchant vessel ACX Crystal, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to the destroyer and killing seven sailors. 

According to the Navy's public report, in the hours prior to the collision, Fitzgerald's bridge team did not did not maintain a proper lookout, broadcast AIS, properly tune their radar or follow VTS lanes. They also failed to communicate with other vessels or with their own ship's Command Information Center (CIC), even in extremis, and did not sound the general alarm until after the collision.

While these factors were concerning enough to prompt the Navy to remove all personnel involved - and to charge the Fitzgerald's commander with negligent homicide - the new report suggests that there was much more. 

A separate Judge Advocate General investigation was conducted in parallel, and its report was used for the Navy's own legal and disciplinary purposes. Its contents were not intended to see publication. According to this report, conducted by Rear Adm. (lower half) Brian Fort and first made public by Navy Times, the Fitzgerald's state of readiness had reached unusually low levels.

Upon boarding Fitzgerald after the accident, Rear Adm. Fort found the destroyer's CIC in disarray, filled with personal items, workout gear, trash, food waste and bottles of urine. Much of its high-tech equipment was broken, and the work orders to fix it had gone unfilled for months. On the bridge, the AIS system and the radar's auto-track (ARPA) feature were so unreliable that Fitzgerald's watchstanders did not use them. 

Based on interviews with Fitzgerald's crew, Fort concluded that morale was low and discipline was lax. "Procedural compliance by bridge watchstanders is not the norm onboard FTZ, as evidenced by numerous, almost routine, violations of the CO's standing orders," he wrote. Fort's team also administered Rules of the Road tests to Fitzgerald's officers and found that they averaged about 60 percent; three out of 22 scored above 80 percent. The minimum passing score for licensed American mariners is 90 percent. 

Fort also noted that Commander Bryce Benson was not on the Fitzgerald's bridge at the time of the collision, even though he had only been in command for a few days and had never sailed the Fitzgerald out of the busy waters off Tokyo. “It is inexplicable that neither Benson nor [his XO] were on the bridge for his first outbound Yokosuka transit as CO, at night, in close proximity to land, and expecting moderately dense fishing and merchant traffic,” Fort wrote. 

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