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U.S. warship stayed on deadly collision course despite warning, says container ship captain

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By Tim Kelly

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The investigations will examine witness testimony and electronic data to determine how a naval destroyer fitted with sophisticated radar could be struck by a vessel more than three times its size.

Indeed, something was seriously wrong aboard the Navy vessel, and the Navy's utter silence raises many questions.

Another focus of the probes has been the length of time it took the ACX Crystal to report the collision. The JCG says it was first notified at 2:25 a.m., nearly an hour after the accident.

And the Navy reported the collision at the same time, but oh yeah, I forgot, the Navy falsified their reports to indicate that the accident actually took place at 2:20 AM. So technically on paper, the Navy did not breach any regulation.

I think the Navy knows full well that the accident occurred at 1:30 am, and if they alter the death records of those poor sailors to indicate a time of death of 2:20 so all their paperwork jives I wonder consider that an utter disgrace that will shame the institution forever.

-1 ( +9 / -10 )

Determining fault will be a long process, but it really appears to me that the Navy ship never saw the container ship coming. Basic seamanship and procedure is for the bridge team to sound the general alarm if a possible collision is imminent. This alarm is specifically intended to wake sleeping crew and get them out of their quarters. That does not appear to have happened. Also, the Navy ship, in these waters or in any waters maintains a large Naval Protection Zone with an outer and inner perimeter. If another ship encroaches on their protection zone radius, that also is reason to set off alarms, go to battle stations, and possibly respond with force. That also does not appear to have happened. The Navy ship would have been running with his AIS unit in encrypted and/or "receive only" mode - not transmitting a public AIS signal. That's why we have available an AIS history track for the container ship but not for the Navy ship. Other than a visual or radar sighting, the container ship would not have been able to see the Navy ship. The Navy ship would probably have also not been broadcasting on the VHF radio.

14 ( +17 / -3 )

Picture this:

The ACX Crystal is steaming on a course for Tokyo at optimum cruising speed. It is on autopilot as is every other commercial vessel in the bay.

The Fitzgerald is steaming for Yokohama on a parallel course, since it is ahead of the ACX it is not really keeping track of her.

The Fitzgerald makes a course change to port (left), probably at a predetermined and plotted waypoint without checking oncoming traffic. The Fitzgerald is now on an intersect course with the ACX.

Since the ACX is overtaking or passing the Fitzgerald, the Fitzgerald is obligated to give way to the ACX under two different rules in the COLREGS.

It takes several miles for a vessel the size of the ACX to stop or turn, the ACX captain says they made a hard turn to starboard to try to duck behind the Fitzgerald, there was no way the ACX was going to be able to stop.

All the collision damage evidence and the AIS track of the ACX bears this out. The ACX was still on autopilot when she hit the Fitzgerald and after the collision the autopilot auto-corrected back to the original course. At some point the ACX crew disengaged the autopilot, slowed and turned the ACK back to see what they had hit.

I predict the Navy ship will be found to not have been keeping a proper bridge watch and failing to give way under the COLREGS.
7 ( +13 / -6 )

The navy ship wouldn't stay in its path deliberately under normal logic.

Maybe flashing with lights isn't enough in these circumstances as that would entail a person needing to visually seeing the lights to be warned.

I guess these ships aren't in as good communication as I thought.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Well that's the position of the Master of the ACX Crystal. It does put a burden on the USN side. With 6 investigations going we'll hear soon.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

The navy ship wouldn't stay in its path deliberately under normal logic.

I guess these ships aren't in as good communication as I thought.

There is virtually no communication between ships. All vessels are obligated to monitor marine VHF channel 16 which is the emergency channel as well as the designated port control channel if within a controlled shipping area. Having said that, trying to contact a large vessel to try to determine it's intentions via radio is an exercise in futility, they simply do not monitor the radio. Naval vessels operate in their own world, which is a bit arrogant and stratified. I sail in Japanese waters and have come in contact with both US and Japanese Navy vessels, they both ignore the rules of the road and figure everything will get out of their way. I had one US Navy vessel which was on picket duty off the coast of Okinawa, pull up it's anchor and steam directly across my path on a collision course on a bright sunny day in perfect sea conditions. My mast is 55 feet tall with a multicolor headsail, kind of hard to miss, providing you are looking or care.

15 ( +18 / -3 )

the old no comment trick eh? the old investigation is under way trick eh? although the merchant ship is probably right and when up against the navy of a superpower, you have to show some respect for the captain.

he warned the USN ship which was acting erratically.

he stopped and turned around (not easy on such a size ship) and went back to the scene.

he isn't hiding anything from the media and just tells the truth as to what happened.

probably on legal advise, he hasn't splashed out anger to the highly sophisticated warship, just told what happened.

as i said in a previous post, and could of been possible, if the warship had nuclear, chemical or biological weapons so close to Tokyo, things could of been much worse.

-2 ( +7 / -9 )

Sounds like someone was sleeping on the job. If this were true, what does that earn the offender?

8 ( +10 / -2 )

If any of you had ever spent a day in your life serving onboard the bridge of a Navy vessel you'd know that all your speculation is bias and off.

First off, there are Operation Specialist always on the radar screen tracking contacts.

Anytime a Navy vessel is inboard port, lookouts are posted. By Operation Specialist and Boatswain Mates.

All commands, course changes, speed changes are LOGGED. It's standard procedure. There is ALWAYS someone doing this.

The navigation officer or OOD is always on the bridge. A second officer is in the CIC or CDC watching the main screens on a dark room.

All communications are logged.

Someone is always on the "BIG EYES" which are located Port and Starboard. There's no way Navy personnel did NOT see that container ship.

Knowing all this about Naval Operations, I'd bet my money on their navigation records over a group of merchant marines any day of the week.

With current International relations between the U.S and The Philippines, I'm pretty sure this became a game of chicken.

Everybody is wondering why the one discrepancy between the two vessels reports. Why the huge U-turn instead of immediately shutting down their engines and focus on the safety of both vessels?

Who has something to hide here? The Philippines with it's current drug epidemic makes them suspect. The ship does a HUGE U-Turn getting out of visual range of the Navy ship so they can do what? My guess is they dumped whatever they were hiding over the side, out of view of the Navy ship's big eyes. The captain of the cargo ship or it's members knew they would be boarded shortly by Coast Guard and other officials to assess the damage. A full inspection of the ship and it's cargo was likely to take place.

So a 1 hour time lapse means that anything that was dumped overboard would be hard to locate. A complete stop by the cargo vessel would mean that any contraband or illegal substances would be less than a mile from where the collision took place.

That's how I see it.

-11 ( +12 / -23 )

Droll: If the Fitz was forward, and the Crystal was behind, making it an overtaking situation with the Crystal going faster, then how could a turn to port, with the Crystal passing on the starboad side be a bad move? Also, in an overtaking situation, the overtaking ship (Crystal) is required to maneuver and the ship being overtaken required to maintain course and speed as best as possible. If a situation starts as overtaking, then it stays that way even when the angles change.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

This large ships take a long time to slow down, not sure about 6km's but sounds like someone was asleep at the wheel of the US ship.

4 ( +9 / -5 )

Knowing all this about Naval Operations, I'd bet my money on their navigation records over a group of merchant marines any day of the week.

I would bet money on the Navy's records too. I am sure they will be very important in the investigation.

@Redtail Swift, your comments on the impact and actions of the cargo vessel make a lot of sense. I thought there was something unexplained with its behavior, but I didn't have any further thoughts on what to make of the u-turn, time delay from the hit to the reporting of the collision. Surely, turning off the autopilot and shutting down the vessel to assist the other vessel would have been the first thing to do.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Seems like someone on the navy vessel was not paying attention. That they would stick with the 2:20 collision time for so long strongly suggests they have something to hide.

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

I think it's pretty clear the USN is at fault here. A ship the size of that container ship would have no way to deliberately hit something and the USN ship not being able to detect such a massive and slow moving vessel is preposterous and incompetent. Someone on that navy ship will have to pay for the treason of killing his shipmates

0 ( +6 / -6 )

The US navy does have very strict logging system for any vessel. The truth and cause of the incident must be in the records. The true cause of the accident will come out in the 6 investigations. With all the sophisticated technology on both ships it must be a case of human error, but on who's part will be determined by the investigations. Not on the JT forums.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

@LandofExcuses - Yay! What else can we do until the Japanese news crews put together a reenactment/explanation complete with models that rival Doc from Back to the Future?

0 ( +4 / -4 )

All commands, course changes, speed changes are LOGGED.

I agree, since 10 days have already passed, it stands to reason that the USN knows what transpired, yet they remain silent and they're still stubbornly sticking with the obviously false 2:20 AM accident time.

Seems to me that the USN lacks the courage and integrity to tell the truth. In fact, they seem more concerned with saving compensation costs and covering their own hide than honoring their fallen comrades by acknowledging their correct time of death.

Open letter to the USN:

Tell the truth, the accident happened at 1:30 am, not 2:20 am.

0 ( +6 / -6 )

@dcog. you are right about treason of killing. thank you Redtail. everybody is so quick to point out that the most advanced warship is a white elephant, but it is, thanks to @redtail, we know it was more likely human error. quilty most likely:

-Operation Specialist on radar.

-lookouts, Operation Specialist and Boatswain Mates.

-Ships logger for commands, course changes, speed changes.

-navigation officer or OOD.

-A second officer in the CIC or CDC watching the main screens on a dark room.

-communications officer.

-"BIG EYES" which are located Port and Starboard

thanks again redtail. the container ship spotted the warship, flashed lights and tried to avoid.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Naval vessels operate in their own world, which is a bit arrogant and stratified.

Bingo!!! and it's not only the US Navy, it's almost every damn navy in the world. IMO/UNCLOS do not impose SOLAS and 'Rules of the Road' on naval vessels, for reasons understandable, but this exemption should be allowed only in wartime. Those sailors would be alive today if both ships were on the same page, following the same datum.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I think redtail's game of chicken scenario has a ring of truth to it.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

it seems ridiculous that in this day and age they dont have collusion detection equipment installed, they got them in planes and some new cars, why not large ships and $100s million naval vessels!?!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I think redtail's game of chicken scenario has a ring of truth to it.

No it couldn't.  The CO has standing orders that when ships get a certain distance, the OOD is to call and describe the situation, state who is the give way (in this case the Fitzgerald) and the stand on (ACX) vessel and what his intentions are.  If the ACX had flashed him with signal lights a good OOD would have told the CO in the call.  I have had to call my CO many a times in the middle of the night when coming upon other merchant ships out at sea, and the CO's know it comes with the job.

There are numerous radar data tapes that will be reviewed and looked at, and the courses and the events leading up to this disaster will be thoroughly examined. 

I don't subscribe to the "because of tensions between the US and the PI" meme since more than anything the ACX Master would want a job, and the bridge crew are not into Geopolitics when out on the high seas.  For them to know it was a Philippine flagged and crewed ship, they would have had to spoken with them and so far nothing has indicated that they have.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Years ago when I worked in the UK Lighthouse Service, there was an legend that some ships were navigating the English Channel, the busiest sea lane in the world at that time, with only a dog on watch on the bridge. Seems in this case that even the dog was asleep!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Unless the event was planned and targeted. As a purely political move. A relatively smaller ship tried to save, but unfortunately did not have the chance. As a result, seven sailors died. Let's hope the investigation shows what really happened during the collision...sad story about death braves sailors..

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Another factor is that when ships are running close to each other, as in a badly-judged overtaking manouvre, pressure changes can "suck" on the ships, changing a parallel course into a collision course.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I wonder if every statement is to be written for the audience or for the likes. Audibility is the ability to express your own opinion. Because of the sympathy ... death in general arouses in man fear and nostalgia...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

What I am reading on here is it is looking like the USA ship could be in the wrong, and the container ship is right, but what comes out in a report might be different, IF it was the USA navel ships fault, will they admit it? IF the navel ship is in the wrong, will they, or someone be court marshalled? and do the public get to see/hear about the court case? since this has happened in Japanese waters, will the case be heard in a Japanese court if there is legal claim?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Since the ACX is overtaking or passing the Fitzgerald, the Fitzgerald is obligated to give way to the ACX under two different rules in the COLREGS.

Completely wrong. The COLREGS clearly state that the OVERTAKING vessel is the give way vessel.

 Rule 13 (Overtaking)

(a) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Rules of Part B, Sections I and II, any vessel overtaking any other shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.

(b) A vessel shall be deemed to be overtaking when coming up with another vessel from a direction more than 22.5° abaft her beam, that is, in such a position with reference to the vessel she is overtaking, that at night she would be able to see only the sternlight of that vessel but neither of her sidelights.

(c) When a vessel is in any doubt as to whether she is overtaking another, she shall assume that this is the case and act accordingly.

(d) Any subsequent alteration of the bearing between the two vessels shall not make the overtaking vessel a crossing vessel within the meaning of these Rules or relieve her of the duty of keeping clear of the overtaken vessel until she is finally past and clear.

they made a hard turn to starboard to try to duck behind the Fitzgerald

The ACX was still on autopilot when she hit the Fitzgerald and after the collision the autopilot auto-corrected back to the original course.

So they made a hard turn but where still on autopilot? Huh?

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The U.S Navy have a big reputation of sea arrogance towards any other vessel... including lighthouse's.

This happened in Spain... explains a lot why the Fitzgerald did not move a finger to avoid this collision.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VHXRYXzEVU

:P

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Mario DiasToday 03:38 pm JST

The U.S Navy have a big reputation of sea arrogance towards any other vessel... including lighthouse's.

This happened in Spain... explains a lot why the Fitzgerald did not move a finger to avoid this collision.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_VHXRYXzEVU

You know it's a myth right ?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

None of the scenarios so far makes 100% sense.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Probably a case like this: https://youtu.be/_VHXRYXzEVU

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

US Navy did not move a finger? Please read the rule of the nautical road. One ship had the responsibility to maintain course and speed as best as possible. The other ship has the responsibility to change course and speed to avoid a dangerous situation. So if the ship that has the responsibility to maintain course and speed does just that, then they did not move a finger, as the law dictates. Then you accuse them of not moving a finger. Nice logic!

The US Navy does not want to take a quick shot from the hip to quickly look good. So holding off for a full accounting is not an admission of guilt, just being careful to only put out correct information. Some people are like Trump who believes that quick loud talk (or tweets) whether true or not will convince everyone that they are correct.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Has anyone suggested that the US ship for some reason might not have been underway at the time she was hit?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just out of curiosity: Does the tracked course of the container ship make any sense at all, regardless if the collision happened at 1:30 or 2:30? It looks to me like a headless chicken run, not a container ship.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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