Japanese probe reveals more on how a NYK containership crushed a US destroyer a quarter of its size
crew of the guided-missile destroyer that was struck
by a 2,858-TEU ship four times its size in June off
the coast of Japan fought to save the ship for an hour
before the first calls went out for help, say Japanese
According to the US Naval Institute News, the collision
of USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and the Philippine-flagged
ACX Crystal knocked out the destroyer’s communications
for an hour, while the box ship was unaware of what
it hit until it doubled back and found the damaged warship,
two sources familiar with the ongoing Japanese investigation
told USNI News.
Investigators think the Crystal was transiting to
Tokyo on autopilot with an inattentive or asleep crew
when the box ship struck a glancing blow on the destroyer’s
starboard side at 1:30am Saturday June 17.
When the crew of Crystal realised they had hit something,
the ship made a U-turn in the shipping lane and went
back to the site of the collision at 18 knots, and there
discovered the Fitzgerald, and radioed a distress call
to authorities at about 2:30am. US Navy officials initially
said the collision occurred at around the time of the
distress call at 2:30am.
Meanwhile, when Crystal’s port bow hit Fitzgerald,
the warship was performing a normal transit off the
coast of Japan. Above the waterline, the flared bow
of Crystal caved in several spaces in the superstructure,
including the stateroom of commanding officer Cmdr Bryce
The impact not only ripped a hole in the steel superstructure
in the stateroom but also shifted the contents and shape
of the steel so Cmdr Benson was "squeezed out the
hull and was outside the skin of the ship", a sailor
familiar with the damage to the ship told USNI News.
Fitzgerald sailors had to bend back the door of the
stateroom to pluck Cmdr Benson from the side of the
ship and bring him inside. He and two other sailors
were later removed by Japanese helicopter to a US naval
hospital at Yokosuka on Tokyo Bay.
Pictures of Cmdr Benson's stateroom from the door
show the steel bent back to reveal open air, and a photo
of the ship’s exterior pier-side shows almost the entire
stateroom was crushed.
Meanwhile, below decks, the glancing blow of Crystal’s
bulbous bow had ripped a 10-by-10-foot hole below the
waterline, flooding a machinery space and the berths
of half of the crew.
Later, US 7th Fleet commander Vice Admiral Joseph
Aucoin confirmed the spaces that were affected by the
collision. "Three compartments were severely damaged,"
Adm Aucoin said. "The machinery room and two berthing
areas - berthing areas for 116 of the crew."
The seven sailors who died aboard were sealed in
the berthing area behind a watertight door as the ship's
company fought to keep the ship afloat, according to
a description of events the navy told the family of
Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm, according to
The Associated Press.
It’s yet unclear if the ship’s watch had time to
sound the collision alarm or call general quarters before
Crystal hit the destroyer.
In addition to the damage to the spaces, the collision
knocked out Fitzgerald’s communications for the better
part of an hour. At about the same time the crew was
able to reactivate their backup Iridium satellite communications
to radio for help, the Crystal arrived on the scene
and called in its own distress call, the sailor told
US Navy investigators were tight-lipped about details
of the investigation, even inside the service. However,
information USNI News learned from the Japan Coast Guard
investigation indicates Fitzgerald was operating normally
when the collision occurred, raising questions on why
Cmdr Benson wasn’t on the bridge when a contact was
so close to the destroyer.
The next week, US 7th Fleet began a flag officer-led
Judge Advocate General Manual (JAGMAN) investigation
to determine the facts of the collision, as well as
a separate US Navy safety investigation. The US Coast
Guard will take lead in a maritime casualty investigation.
As for the ship, five days after collision active
damage control efforts are ongoing to prevent further
damage to the hull. The force of the Crystal's impact
combined with the flood not only dented but twisted
the ship’s hull. Crewmen were continuing to pump water
in and out of the ship to keep Fitzgerald stable.
Naval Sea Systems Command then assessed if the ship
can be repaired in Japan or would have to be transported
to the US for repairs. The navy has since advertised
for a Float On/Float Off (FLO/FLO) vessel to move the
Fitzgerald to an unnamed US Gulf or US east coast port.
According to the Federal Business Opportunities solicitation,
the navy is looking for "one US or foreign flag
vessel "capable of transporting an Arleigh Burke-class
The cost to repair the Fitzgerald could easily exceed
US$500 million, much of which will be needed to fix
the extensive damage of the ship's electronic systems,
USNI (US Naval Institute) News said.
While investigation and repairs are ongoing, the
ship's crew has been given time away from the ship in
an attempt to recover from the collision. The burden
of ships' watches were then shared by other crews on
the Yokosuka waterfront, Navy officials told USNI News.
Both Chief of Naval Operations Adm John Richardson
and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steve Giordano
both visited Yokosuka to speak with Fitzgerald sailors
and their families.
Comments emailed to USNI News follow:
From retired machinist's mate Ken Badoian: "The
Fitzgerald survived and the question is why? 1) Great
damage control, 2) Training, not giving up, 3) Leadership
up and down the chain, 4) Robust design of ship, and
MOST IMPORTANT, 5) US NAVY pride, save the ship and
save your shipmates. Again well done shipmates.
"It appears that the Fitzgerald was not struck
directly (ie at a 90 degree angle). Had that been the
case, she would almost certainly have sunk regardless
of any of these other factors."
From Topnife: "The Fitz was the burdened vessel.
It was obliged to keep out of the other ship's way.
How did an Aegis warship manoeuvre in front of another
vessel, against all the rules of the road, with all
her radars blazing and a CIC calculating closest point
of approach every few seconds.
"The Fitz's CO [commanding officer] was asleep
in his stateroom, right behind the bridge, when the
collision occurred! Why had he not been called to the
"Being run down by a 40,000-ton ship should
not have been a total surprise to the OOD [officer of
the deck] and bridge watch, or the CIC (combat information
centre) of an Aegis ship either. No way that someone
would not notice a huge ship bearing down on them, even
if only for 30 seconds or less, unless someone was asleep
"It's astonishing that all communications assets
would be concentrated in just one area of the ship,
such that the ship would have been rendered completely
silent by a single 'hit'.
"That ship looks 'bent'. The damage extended
virtually to the keel, and a 40,000-ton ship rode up
over it and bore down. Have a look at the pix: the line
of the hull is visibly bent. Scratch one DDG [guided
missile destroyer (sic)].
From Johnny G: "I quite agree. Aegis radar touts
360 degree coverage. During normal Ops 'situational
awareness' should not be a problem underway. During
ANY closing or confrontational situation, the CO [commanding
officer] must be informed as per SOP [standard operating
procedure]. So, what happened?? The other ship had it's
own points of interest in that it's bridge probably
was not manned or had incompetent personnel on watch.
From Kapena16: "You're a fool to make such a
comment with no grounds or evidence to know this was
the case. Cultivating the idea that civilian ships run
around in a high density ship traffic area off the coast
of Japan at night like a bunch of mindless robots all
by themselves is utter BS and you should know better
than to make such a claim. I don't care how many years
in the navy you had, even if on the bridge, even if
you were qualified OOD [officer of the deck]. To think
this was the case is utter nonsense and you owe a lot
more respect to civilian licensed watch standing officers
everywhere. News reports today confirm that captain
of the cargo ship says they were attempting to signal
and warn the navy ship off. The navy ship is at fault.
Deal with that reality."
Mongo: "Conventional wisdom on my navy ship
was that commercial ship pilothouses were usually unmanned
late at night, and it was fun to watch two radar pips
merge into one, although we never heard any distress
calls, so they obviously missed each other in the end."
Next man: "In some 13 years sailing (engineer),
first commercially, then military, I've never seen a
bridge unmanned underway on a merchant ship. This with
the typical two man watch (mate and AB [able bodied
Denny in Dayton: "The analysis by some of the
Crystals's AIS [automated information systems] is why
they say the bridge was empty or someone was asleep.
The AIS shows at what would be the time collision the
Crystal briefly slowed, veered to starboard, then back
to port then accelerated and resumed base course. That
would have been it striking the Fitzgerald, bouncing
off or breaking free. The key is the Crystal continued
for over 15 minutes on that base course after the collision
before presumably someone got up and started trying
to figure out what happened.
"If true that's a serious violation. But that
said, the DDG had an obligation to avoid that accident
and should have been able to. It's a cow running into
a deer - shouldn't happen."
From USS Fallujah: "I'm finding it difficult
to get my head around how the bridge watch of Fitzgerald
could let a ship the size of the Crystal slip their
minds, especially when it got within a couple hundred
yards - still enough time to sound an alarm. That is,
after all, the primary purpose of the bridge watch."