National

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

by Tim Kelly

Reuters

The U.S. warship struck by a container vessel off the Izu Peninsula failed to respond to warning signals or take evasive action before a collision that killed seven of its crew, according to a report of the incident by the Philippine cargo ship’s captain.

Multiple U.S. and Japanese investigations are underway into how the guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald and the much larger ACX Crystal container ship collided in clear weather south of Tokyo Bay in the early hours of June 17.

In the first detailed account from one of those directly involved, the cargo ship’s captain said the ACX Crystal had signaled with flashing lights after the Fitzgerald “suddenly” steamed on to a course to cross its path.

The container ship steered hard to starboard (right) to avoid the warship but hit the Fitzgerald 10 minutes later at 1:30 a.m., according to a copy of Capt. Ronald Advincula’s report to shipowner Dainichi Investment Corp. that was seen by Reuters.

The U.S. Navy declined to comment and Reuters was not able to independently verify the account.

The collision tore a gash below the Fitzgerald’s waterline, killing seven sailors in what was the greatest loss of life on a U.S. Navy vessel since the USS Cole was bombed in Yemen’s Aden harbor in 2000.

Those who died were in their berthing compartments, while the Fitzgerald’s commander was injured in his cabin, suggesting that no alarm warning of an imminent collision was sounded.

A spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, the Fitzgerald’s home port, said he was unable to comment on an ongoing investigation.

The incident has spurred six investigations, including two internal hearings by the U.S. Navy and a probe by the U.S. Coast Guard on behalf of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. The Japan Transport Safety Board, the Japan Coast Guard and the Philippines government are also conducting separate investigations.

Spokesmen from the Japan Coast Guard, U.S. Coast Guard and the ship’s owner, Dainichi Investment, also declined to comment. Reuters was not able to contact Advincula, who is no longer in Japan.

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

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

In his report, the ACX Crystal’s captain said there was “confusion” on his ship’s bridge, and that it turned around and returned to the collision site after continuing for 6 nautical miles (11 km).

Shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that the ACX Crystal, chartered by Nippon Yusen K.K., made a complete U-turn between 12:58 a.m. and 2:46 a.m.

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