WASHINGTON – The crew of the USS Fitzgerald was likely at fault in the U.S. warship’s collision with a cargo ship in June and had not been paying attention to their surroundings, according to the initial findings of an investigation, a U.S. defense official said.
Multiple U.S. and Japanese investigations are under way into how the Fitzgerald, a guided-missile destroyer, and the much larger ACX Crystal container ship, chartered by a Japanese company, collided in clear weather south of Tokyo Bay in the early hours of June 17.
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.
“There was not a lot that went right leading up to the crash. There were a string of errors, but they did a lot after the collision to save lives and the ship,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Friday.
The official said that in addition to the crew members not paying attention, they did not take action until it was too late.
While the investigation is not complete, the official said crew members had given statements and radar data had been gathered, and it was unlikely the findings would change.
A U.S. Navy spokeswoman said the investigation was in the early stages and it was premature to speculate on the causes.
The incident has spurred a number of investigations, including a probe by the United States Coast Guard on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board. The Japan Transport Safety Board and the Philippine government are conducting separate investigations.
Last month, details emerged of an account reportedly given by the Philippine cargo ship’s captain, who said the warship failed to respond to warning signals or take evasive action before the collision.
The ACX Crystal was chartered by Nippon Yusen KK.
The Fitzgerald, equipped with the state-of-the-art Aegis missile defense system, had been sailing in Japanese coastal waters to monitor North Korea and its ballistic missile launches.