Disciplinary Actions Taken in Wake of USS Fitzgerald Collision with Tanker
YOKOSUKA, Japan — The commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief of the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald were relieved of their duties by Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander, Seventh Fleet, on Aug. 18, the Seventh Fleet announced in a release.
Additionally, a number of officer and enlisted watch standers were held accountable. The determinations were made following a thorough review of the facts and circumstances leading up to the June 17 collision between Fitzgerald and the Philippine-flag merchant vessel ACX Crystal.
The collision was avoidable and both ships demonstrated poor seamanship, the Navy said. Within Fitzgerald, flawed watch stander teamwork and inadequate leadership contributed to the collision that claimed the lives of seven Fitzgerald Sailors, injured three more and damaged both ships.
With absolute accountability for the safe navigation of Fitzgerald, Cmdr. Bryce Benson was relieved due to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead. He had previously been temporarily relieved of his duties due to medical reasons from injuries suffered during the collision. Benson is being reassigned to Naval District Washington at the Washington Navy Yard, where he will have access to medical facilities in the area.
Inadequate leadership by the executive officer, Cmdr. Sean Babbitt, and command master chief, Master Chief Petty Officer Brice Baldwin, contributed to the lack of watch stander preparedness and readiness that was evident in the events leading up to the collision, according to the release.
Several junior officers were relieved of their duties due to poor seamanship and flawed teamwork as bridge and combat information center watch standers. Additional administrative actions were taken against members of both watch teams.
Cmdr. Garret Miller will assume command from Fitzgerald’s acting commanding officer, Cmdr. John “Jack” Fay sometime mid- to late August.
It was also evident from this review that the entire Fitzgerald crew demonstrated real toughness that night. Following the collision, these Sailors responded with urgency, determination and creativity to save their ship. Their rigorous damage control efforts and dauntless fighting in the immediate wake of the accident prevented further loss of life, the Navy said.