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What is wrong with the 7th Fleet?

 

The USS Fitzgerald listing to its starboard (right) side as it arrives in Japan.

The US Navy is divided into separate fleets, each of which covers different areas of the globe. There are currently six active fleets: the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Tenth fleets. However, in recent months, one fleet in particular has been under significant stress. The Seventh fleet, stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, located just to the south of Tokyo on Tokyo Bay. Along with the Third fleet, it guards US interests in the Pacific Ocean. The Seventh Fleet this year has reported five disastrous accidents with its vessels. There were four instances of ship collisions and one involving a ship running aground.

The first accident concerns the USS Antietam, a guided missile cruiser. On January 31, 2017, the USS Antietam, under command of Captain Joseph Carrigan, ran aground in Tokyo Bay, spilling 1,100 gallons of oil in the harbor. According to reports, the anchor was recovered while the ship’s engines were stopped. Once the anchor was fully retrieved, the engines were started. Just one minute later, the mishap occurred, resulting in ruined propellers and hull, in all costing 40 million dollars. The cause of the accident was poor weather conditions and insufficient communications between the commanding officer and the bridge. Because of Carrigan’s improper handling of the ship, the US Navy dismissed him from command after the accident.

The second accident was a collision off the coast of the Korean peninsula between a South Korean fishing vessel and the guided missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain. Thankfully, both ships sustained only minor damage and were each able to navigate under its own power after the incident. Damage to the ships was assessed by the South Korean Coast Guard and the US Navy. There were no dead or missing after the collision.

The third accident of the year was the horrific collision between the USS Fitzgerald and the Philippine-flagged container ship ACX Crystal on June 17th. This tragedy was perhaps the most damaging because the collision occurred very early in the morning and thus led to greater confusion. Many sailors aboard the Fitzgerald were in their berths at the time and there was a lack of vigilance on deck. The Crystal ripped a hole in the side of the ship, exposing the second berth and flooding it. Seven of the thirty-five sailors sleeping there were killed. The commanding officer’s cabin was also crushed by the collision, but the officer was finally rescued by his crew who broke down the dismantled door. According to the reports of the junior and petty officers who retrieved him, the commanding officer was found “hanging from the side of the ship.” (taskandpurpose.com) Later, he was relieved of command due to the incident.

USS Fitzgerald’s starboard (right) side after collision with the ACX Crystal–this section is the captain’s stateroom; he was found hanging from the ship.

The fourth collision occurred between the USS John S. McCain, a guided missile destroyer, and Alnic MC, a  Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker. It occurred on August 21 in the Strait of Malacca, one of the most narrow and busiest waterways in the world. Both were on their way to Singapore, the second busiest port in the world. Similar to the USS Fitzgerald accident, the Alnic MC punched a vast rupture in the port side of the McCain. The breach let ocean water enter the ship and flooded five berths, resulting in ten dead and five injured. The cited causes of the accident, “insufficient proficiency and knowledge” and a “loss of situational awareness,” resulted in the commanding officer again being relieved of his position (taskandpurpose.com).

The USS John S McCain’s port (left) side after collision with the Alnic MC.

The fifth and final accident occurred just recently on November 18th, involving a Japanese commercial tugboat and the USS Benfold, a guided missile destroyer. Although this incident received as much attention as the previous collisions, the warship sustained minimal injury. The tugboat apparently lost propulsion and steerage and drifted slowly into the Benfold. The tugboat was towed back to South Korea but the Benfold remained at sea under its own power. Fortunately, there were no casualties and no injuries. This was the was the only collision of the five which was not a result of serious failures on the part of US Navy officers.

These accidents would be disconcerting no matter the political state in the eastern Pacific. With the escalating situation with North Korea, however, these ships are even more crucial to maintain a missile defense system in the Pacific. The damage sustained by the Antietam, Fitzgerald, and McCain will take a substantial amount of time and money to repair. Even the Champlain and Benfold will require repairs. With these ships out of commission, the United States will either suffer a diminished presence in the Pacific or be forced to deploy other ships to the area, thus interrupting schedules and consuming more money.

Since incidents such as these are such a detriment to the military, what efforts can be taken to ensure they do not occur? Most issues transpired because of a lack of watchfulness of the crew’s ships. This leads to two possible solutions that can improve the Navy’s problems.

The first is more sailors. If there are more sailors, then there is more vigilance on board which can determine and evade potential disasters. Also, if there were a larger crew, then other members can get more rest since there are more sailors to execute tasks. This leads to the second solution: more sleep. If a sailor is more rested, then he or she may be more thorough in their assignments. Shockingly, some sailors stay up for thirty hours or more and only get at most four hours of sleep. Servicemen and women are understandably frustrated about this fact, but perhaps it takes serious accidents to finally change the watch cycles on ships. As the Navy examined all Seventh fleet operations following the McCain collision, sleep deprivation was certainly recognized as a factor. Although it may not be the ultimate origin for the collisions, getting more sleep may be a considerable benefit.

 

(All images are courtesy of Google images unless otherwise noted.)

Works Cited:

Brennan, Larry. “The Philippine container ship that crashed into a US guided-missile destroyer may be liable for almost $2 billion.” Business Insider Deutschland, 12 July 2017, www.businessinsider.de/philippine-container-ship-mv-acx-crystal-uss-fitzgerald-destroyer-crash-legal-liability-2017-7?r=US&I R=T. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017.

Commander, US 7th Fleet Public Affairs. “USS Lake Champlain Collision at Sea.” America’s Navy, 9 Sept. 2017, www.navy.mil submit/display.asp?story_id=100369. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017.

Keller, Jared. “The McCain Collision Was The 7th Fleet’s Fourth Major Mishap Of 2017.”Taskandpurpose.com, 21 Aug. 2017, taskandpurpose.com/uss-john-mccain-collision-investigation/. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017.

Linehan, Adam. “Navy Officially Blames Captain For Running His Missile Cruiser Aground.”Taskandpurpose.com, 1 Aug. 2017, taskandpurpose.com/navy-officially-blames-captain-running-missile-cruiser-aground/. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017.

Navy Office of Administration. “Navy Releases Collision Report for USS Fitzgerald and USS John S McCain Collisions.” America’s Navy, 1 Nov. 2017, www.navy.mil/submit/display.as story_id=103130. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017.

Weinstein, Adam. “Amid 7th Fleet Turmoil, Sailors Open Up About The Navy’s Silent Threat: Sleep Deprivation.” Task and Purpose, 23 Aug. 2017, taskandpurpose.com/fitzgerald-mccain-sleep-deprivation-navy/. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017.

Werner, Ben. “Timeline: USS Fitzgerald Collision.”News.usni.org, 18 Aug. 2017, news.usni.org/2017/08/18/timeline-uss-fitzgerald-collision. Accessed 24 Nov. 2017.

 

One Comment

  1. One of the young men killed aboard the USS John S. McCain lived in my town… It was a heartbreaking accident.