The commanding officer, executive officer and command master chief of the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) were relieved of their duties by Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, Commander, Seventh Fleet, on August 18. Additionally, a number of officer and enlisted watch standers were held accountable.
(The line of duty investigation supplement is available through a link at the end of this story. )
The determinations were made following a thorough review of the facts and circumstances leading up to the June 17 collision between Fitzgerald and the merchant vessel ACX Crystal.
The collision was avoidable and both ships demonstrated poor seamanship. Within Fitzgerald, flawed watch stander teamwork and inadequate leadership contributed to the collision that claimed the lives of seven Fitzgerald Sailors, injured three more, and damaged both ships.
With absolute accountability for the safe navigation of Fitzgerald, Cmdr. Bryce Benson was relieved due to a loss of confidence in his ability to lead. He had previously been temporarily relieved of his duties due to medical reasons from injuries sustained during the collision. Cmdr. Benson is being reassigned to Naval District Washington at the Washington Navy Yard, where he will have access to medical facilities in the area.
Inadequate leadership by the executive officer, Cmdr. Sean Babbitt, and command master chief, Master Chief Petty Officer Brice Baldwin, contributed to the lack of watch stander preparedness and readiness that was evident in the events leading up to the collision.
Several junior officers were relieved of their duties due to poor seamanship and flawed teamwork as bridge and combat information center watch standers. Additional administrative actions were taken against members of both watch teams.
Cmdr. Garret Miller will assume command from Fitzgerald's acting commanding officer, Cmdr. John "Jack" Fay sometime mid-to-late-August.
It was also evident from this review that the entire Fitzgerald crew demonstrated real toughness that night. Following the collision these Sailors responded with urgency, determination and creativity to save their ship. Their rigorous damage control efforts and dauntless fighting in the immediate wake of the accident prevented further loss of life.
This report specifically reviews the crew's damage control activities, the nature and extent of injuries to the crew and efforts to provide medical care to the most critically injured personnel, along with details regarding assistance provided by other vessels, diving activities and the ship's return to port in Yokosuka.
The supplement provides details and accounts of actions taken following the collision and reports:
- Through their swift and in many cases heroic actions, members of the crew saved lives.
- After the collision, Sailors responded to the myriad damage control scenarios occurring throughout the ship. Flooding, structural damage and reports of white smoke stressed the damage control organization; at the same time, efforts to restore power, propulsion, steering and navigation continued.
- No damage control efforts would have prevented Berthing 2 from flooding completely within the first two minutes following the collision.
The initial line of duty investigation was limited in scope to establishing a line of duty determination for the three injured and seven deceased Sailors. It is separate from ongoing investigations into the collision between Fitzgerald and ACX Crystal. The line of duty investigation supplement is one of three Navy investigations into the collision and is meant to provide detail of what occurred following the collision.
Each of the injuries and deaths occurred in the line of duty and none was due to any member's own misconduct.