When Navy ships collide, there is virtually always human error involved – Washington Post


Damage to the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald is seen as the vessel is berthed at its mother port in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo, on June 18. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)

Ten years ago, Scott Cheney-Peters stood watch on the bridge of the USS Fitzgerald, a guided-missile destroyer deployed to the Pacific. Despite sophisticated navigation systems, keeping the ship a safe distance from other vessels in crowded maritime corridors was complex, especially at night, he said.

“The bridge teams have help from some automated systems that suggest what they think is happening and can alert the human operators to potentially dangerous situations,” said Cheney-Peters, the founder of the Center for International Maritime Security, which facilitates discussion of naval issues. “But as with any algorithm, those alerts can be occasionally thrown off, in this case by things like large waves or two other ships very close together — so it’s humans that have to ultimately make navigation decisions.”

Early Saturday morning, the Fitzgerald found itself at the center of one of the ugliest maritime incidents in years for the Navy. The 505-foot long ship collided off the coast of Japan with the Philippine-flagged MV ACX Crystal, a 730-foot container ship. The Crystal ripped a 12-foot hole in the starboard (right) side of the Fitzgerald’s hull, fully flooding the third and fourth platform levels of the ship and drowning seven sailors in sleeping quarters, according to Navy officials and an unclassified document obtained by The Washington Post.

Three additional people, including the ship’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, were medically evacuated from the ship by helicopter, Navy officials have said.

The dead included Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T. Truong Huynh, 25; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24; and Firecontrolman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37.

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