CNO: Navy Taking ‘Immediate Action’ to Address Issues Raised in Accident Review
By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Correspondent
ARLINGTON, Va. — A “comprehensive review” of the rash of at-sea accidents in the U.S. Seventh Fleet determined that the demand to meet operational demands with an insufficient number of ships led to an acceptance of a decline in standards of the fundamentals of seamanship, risk assessment and professionalism, the Navy’s top officer said Nov. 2.
That acceptance of diminished standards “became the norm” and resulted in situations “where teams could no longer recognize that the processes in place to identify, communicate and assess the levels of risk were no longer working on the ships or at headquarters,” Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John M. Richardson said.
Guided by recommendations from the review, Richardson said, the Navy has launched an extensive series of immediate and long-term actions “to prevent anything like this happening in the future. We must get this right and we will.”
The four accidents in the Seventh Fleet already have resulted in removal of the top officers on three ships and higher-level commanders, including two admirals.
In outlining the results of individual investigations into the deadly collisions of the destroyers USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain, which killed 17 Sailors and injured scores more, and the comprehensive review of those and the other incidents in the Western Pacific, Richardson conceded that although he was not aware of the specific erosion of standards, “as CNO, I own this.”
Briefing Pentagon reporters, Richardson described a staggering list of factors that led to the collisions of the two warships with larger commercial vessels, some of which had been disclosed in the summary of the accident reports released a day before.
He noted that the Navy “has been run hard in the past 16 years of war and the pace is picking up, especially in the Pacific,” and experience shows that if commands are overextended and “take our eyes off the fundamentals we become vulnerable to mistakes at all levels of command.”
The accident investigations determined that the two collisions “were preventable,” and resulted from failures to follow sound navigation practices, execute basic watch-standing principles, properly use available navigation tools, respond “deliberately and effectively” when threatened with collision, loss of “situational awareness in high traffic density” and failure to follow international rules of the road.
“And, on the John S. McCain, insufficient knowledge and proficiency” with the ship’s steering system left the destroyer basically out of control as the cargo ship steamed into it.
Richardson said the separate review “found that over a sustained period of time, rising pressures to meet operational demands led those in command to rationalize a decline in standards, standards in fundamental seamanship and watch standing, team work, operational safety, assessment and professional culture” which led to “a reduction in operational safety margins.”
The review also determined that the demand for operational ships “exceeded the number that could be provided,” and with no “effective process” to assess the situation, the “steadily increasing risk was not understood.”
That condition “became the norm,” he said.
To prevent a repeat of those conditions, the CNO said the Navy was taking “immediate action” to restore “deliberative scheduling,” by conducting “comprehensive readiness assessments” of all Seventh Fleet ships, establishing a new organization to ensure ship readiness, upgrading training in ship operations fundamentals and “implementing schedules to ensure that everyone gets sufficient rest.”
That last action was based on the finding that the undermanned crews of the Seventh Fleet ships frequently were fatigued from excessive time on duty.
Richardson said the Navy also was reviewing the qualification standards for watch standers and officers, accelerating upgrades of electronic navigation systems and implementing a long-term plan to improving training on navigation, ship handling and bridge coordination.
Although the immediate actions are directed at the Pacific fleet, which had suffered four at-sea accidents including Fitzgerald and McCain, the results of the comprehensive review were being transmitted to all Navy commands with instructions to study them, and determine “where they might be vulnerable.”