USS Fitzgerald collides with ACX Crystal off coast of Japan


#404

You are probably right about no outside agency being granted access to interview the crew or assess damage to the Fitz, but as to the internal investigation, I disagree: they will ask. It won’t be a public investigation and you won’t see their findings. The existence of embarrassing documents from previous investigations is evidence enough that they don’t shrink from asking tough questions - USS Indianapolis is a good case in point. The fact that they know in advance that those interviews will be kept in-house eliminates any need to avoid tough questions - they will be asked, and maybe even held responsible in ways we’ll never know. Military officers take the death of America’s sons and daughters entrusted to their care most seriously. I conducted many such investigations (AR 15-6’s in the Army) and the findings were our business alone, not for public dissemination. In some cases, the interviews and findings were legitimately classified - such as the 15-6s I conducted in Bosnia and Iraq - those won’t see daylight until after I’m dead. (I directed Army vessels all over the Persian Gulf.) In many cases, the final report may be sanitized during rewrites to keep them brief, with only the ‘findings and recommendations’ being fully spelled out and retained in official records that may one day be disclosed. A supporting interview form may be lost, which is improper, but not unheard of, or redacted, but the tough questions will definitely be asked. Conducting those interviews with no holds barred helps one develop insights into what goes on in the minutes leading up to, and in the immediate aftermath of, an accident like this. The Navy definitely wants to know how and why this happened, and what can be done to prevent expensive ‘encores’. In any case, this investigation won’t get public release unless the Navy determines it’s in their interest to do so, which I’m sure it’s not. The movements of the Fitz, as reported by Crystal, and the fact that Fitz was impaled amidship by Crystal’s bow, are all the evidence we need to draw that conclusion. In the interest of Maritime safety, they might release their final recommendations, but some of the contributors to this incident won’t be negotiable, like turning on their locators - which is an OPSEC issue, particularly for a Navy still involved in GWOT against tech-savvy JIhadists and N Korea behaving so badly in that area at the time of this incident. The best compromise I can see is better VHF monitoring and restoring manual signal training for bridge crews, as the Army had to do with manual gunnery, and a good bang on the helmet for whoever decided they could clear Crystal’s bow without impact - unless their radars failed, which the internal investigation will discover. The actions of the Crystal, moving at a leisurely 12 kts, are unremarkable, if sluggish, and the captain of the Crystal reported “confusion” on his bridge, but that’s to be expected if the captain wasn’t on the bridge himself before the impact. I discount speculation that Crystal may have veered off course before the incident; it’s far more likely that they were on autopilot and bridge crew turned her hard to starboard in a hopeless effort to avoid or minimize the impact, and probably less than 6 minutes before the collision. With both captains off their bridges (unremarkable for that location, despite numerous past incidents), we’re probably looking at Fitz doing something unnecessarily risky in front of a vessel incapable of avoiding her, but trying for all she was worth and flashing warning signals (per Capt. Advincula), and then all hell breaking loose - with less experienced officers making the tough calls well enough, but not as well as their captains, or even you or I might have managed in their places. Capt. Advincula did not report that anyone on his vessel signaled Fitz on VHF-16, which all vessels are required to monitor in Tokyo Bay, and offered no explanation for that omission to his employers, but no one else reports hearing Crystal’s crew on VHF-16 until after the collision, which the Japanese investigation will clear up. The Navy actually eliminated the Signalman rate in 2003, according to an article on the US Navy’s own website - http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=10511. Ineffectually rolling that responsibility up under the QM rate - not a top priority for them. Two retired Navy signalmen say the Navy has since stopped requiring ICS and Morse, it’s now an extra-credit self-paced course that doesn’t include lights, just minimal key training, and a 2014 youtube video shows a US vessel flashing poorly spaced and almost unintelligible light signals. Last year, the Navy announced “reviving” signal lights, but not for Morse, but as a carrier wave for digital ship-to-ship communications http://dailycaller.com/2016/08/10/revamped-100-year-old-lamp-will-help-the-navy-counter-russia-and-china/ So it’s unlikely anyone on the Fitz bridge even understood the Crystal’s signal - especially if they were younger, second-stringers. It’s possible that more seasoned officers were on the bridges of both ships, but if they were, they didn’t perform to expectations, and that may be noted in their performance evaluations. This was not the greatest maritime disaster we’ve seen, and not the last - may God show mercy to the faithful sailors now in His care.
(C.Captain’s unfortunately inappropriate profanity notwithstanding.)


#405

The light signal was very likely not Morse code but simply flashing a light to get their attention.


#406

Even worse. Fitz should have seen her running lights, but apparently didn’t.


#407

Similarity to Porter Collision is eerie.


#408

I assume the Japan Transport Safety Board - https://www.mlit.go.jp/jtsb/english.html – is already investigating the collision incl. interviewing crews, inspecting damages and the proximate cause as it occurred in Japanese waters. US NTSB may attend as interested party as any Philippine authority. When the report is complete all interested parties have the opportunity to comment on the findings and after that the report will be published on the Internet, maybe in less than two years time. Re cost of damages the structural damages of the Crystal focsle bulwark they are initially paid by H&M underwriters that later could claim them from USN.


#409

Even worse. Fitz should have seen her running lights, but apparently didn’t.

I would be quite surprised if no one on the Fitz saw her running lights. Possible but unlikely.

My guess, speculation. which could be crap.

Typically a Navy vessel has quite a few people on the bridge. I think I saw posts earlier. referring to OOD JOOD CON so up to three officers, My Guess a QM or whatever the navy call the dude steering, and at least a couple of ratings as look out.

According to AIS info.
The ACX was initially on a heading of just under 090 say 088 or 087.
She altered to 070.
According to ACX approx. 10 min prior to Collison. ACX had the Fitz about 40 deg to Port X about 3 miles.

It is quite probable the look out Saw and reported the ACX long before the alteration from around 090 to 070.
I would be wondering if it would occur to a relatively junior lookout to report again when the ACX altered from around 090 to 070. Quite possibly not.

According to the ACX. Around 10 minutes prior to the Collison. The Fitz made a sudden change in course and or speed. Resulting in a collision course.
The ships would be quite close at this time and closing quickly.
Would it occur to a relatively junior rating on look out to report the ACX was on a steady bearing. Or is it quite possible The look out might have thought, I’ve ready reported the container ship, Its not a new sighting to be reported, Its getting kind of close, But the officers know its there.
So If I was to ask the look out, Did you see the container ship? I would not be surprised if he or she said yes.
If I asked the look out did you see it getting closer, I would not be surprised if he or she said yes.
If I asked the look out did you report it was getting closer, I would not be surprised if the answerer was. No. Why not? I thought the Officers knew it was there and knew what they were doing.

Did you see the flashing light, I would not be surprised if the look out said yes I reported the flashing light.

Unfortunately the flashing light and alteration to Starboard by the ACX appear to have been only about 3 or 4 minutes before impact.
The Collision is virtually imminent both ships are realising what’s happening but its already to late.

The above is pure guesswork.
I don’t know anything about how a Navy bridge works.

I have seen reports where commercial bridge teams have been asked those kind of questions .
he answer from the look out or QM. Did you see it? Yes. Did it look right? No. Did you say any thing? No. Why Not? I thought he knew what he was doing? Why did you think he knew what he was doing? Because he’s the Captain or Because he’s the Officer.

Next Question. have you ever had BRM training? Surprising how often the answer is. Yes. We just did that.

More speculation.
The ACX altered from around 090 to 070 because of the line on the chart or ECDIS as per passage plan.
This alteration significantly reduced the CPA with the Fitz but did not result in a collision co.
The OOW on the ACX may or may not have taken the FITZ into account. Quite probably not.

Shortly after the ACX alters from around 090 to 070.
The Officer navigating and or conning the Fitz. Has a reason to alter Co. Why? who knows? Traffic? passage Plan? orders?
Around this time The Officer navigating, conning the Fitz is distracted by something, What who knows? Possibly the reason for his alteration?
Unfortunately he misses the alteration by the ACX.
The Officer navigating, conning the Fitz, Alters to starboard without realising the ACX has just altered almost 20 deg to port.
Unfortunately this now is a collision co.
This maneuver is not challenged.
Why?
Nobody else on the bridge notices the problem? Possible.
Or Nobody else on the bridge realises the officer conning the Fitz does not know the ACX has altered Course.
Other members of the bridge team assume the officer conning the Fitz is aware of the ACX. It looks odd but an assumption is made he knows what he is doing.
The action continues to go unchallenged. Quite possibly until the report of the flashing light. If it is ever reported.
By the time the light flashes collision is almost imminent.

According to the ACX about 10 min before the collision the Fitz was about 3 miles 40 deg to port.
The closing speed to have a Collison in about 10 minutes, would be about 18 knots, Closing by about 1 mile in about 3 minutes.
A civilian IMO approved ARPA, can take up to 3 minutes after an alteration to give accurate information.
The ACX altered, The Fitz apparently altered, at least once. during the last 10 minutes before the collision.
Possibly contributing to the Officer navigating/conning the Fitz not realising they were on a Collison Co until possibly only the last few minutes prior to impact.
By the time the situation is assessed and acted upon its to late.

Last minute desperate actions by both ships may have even changed a very near miss into a hit.

Might be complete Bollocks and totally wrong


#410

I thought this is a likely scenario and summery.

I am not surprised the Navy will stand by its right to not allow its people to be questioned by an outside agency.
If for no other reason to avoid setting a precedent.

On the other hand. I would expect them to supply relevant transcript to the other agencies. And if they have specific questions ask them and provide the answers.

The Japanese investigators may find it a bit frustrating, particularly not asking questions directly they miss all the non verbal communication. I expect they will not be surprised this wont be the first incident.

It does not mean the navy is not co operating. It will. Or mean the navy is covering anything up.
The appearance of a cover up would be much more damaging than saying our guys f!@#$% up.
Full disclosure of all findings and recommended changes? Depends a bit what they are and is it something that has security value or not.

If they released the audio of the 2012 collision. There not covering much up.


#411

It was a Freedom of Information Act order indtigated by the Navy Times that forced it into the open.


#412

Where do you KNOW that from??

If the two ships were originally on more or less same heading and the Crystal was actually overtaking the destroyer, (which is entirely possible, based on some statement here that their NORMAL steaming speed when in transit COULD have been below 15 kts.) then the only light seen from the Crystal would have been the Fizt’s single white stern light.

It is easy to miss that if the rest of the warship was near blacked out and with a lot of other white lights from ships, fishing boats and the nearby shoreline to mask it,
Combine that with this type of destroyers being designed to present a small radar signature, not sending AIS data and not making attempts at alerting the Crystal of their existence, (or has anybody seen any indication that they did??) it is entirely possible that both the OOW and lookout on the Crystal was blissfully unaware of the danger until shortly before the collision.

If the Fitz made a turn before any other lanterns became visible, and presented her broadside to the Crystal,or when the Crystal got nearly abeam of the Fitz, that may well have been the first indication the Crystal had of her existence.

Will we ever know for sure which? Yes, when the Japanese issue their report we will know what the Crystal experienced, but if we will ever know the other side of the story appears to be doubtful.


#413

Sad to say, but that is often the norm of government agencies, from the Feds right down to your county or local town / village. They fear discovery of their sins or incompetence so much that they cover it up at all costs. Even when nothing is being specifically and deliberately hidden, the obvious and deliberate lack of transparency only makes people more suspicious of it all. It sets up a nasty negative feedback loop that can become essentially permanent.

Trusting any service branch, or any other arm of government, to police itself honestly, is a sucker’s bet. Every now and then some honest & honorable soul will try to do the right thing in these circumstances but the “system” (that is to say, other people within government or the agency in question) usually will punish, not reward them for it.

In a bizarre twist of morality, it’s considered disloyal to want your own government and/or agency to fly more-or-less straight and not do shitty things.

What a surprise!


#414

Hi Ombugge,

I agree with you there. The “Blind Spot” for the Destroyer and the blend in with the background lights and radar targets for the Crystal.

I’m retired Navy radar type form CIC and understand what a navy Bridge at night goes through during shipping maneuvers. I also have sailed as a Master now for over a decade . Both Navy and Merchant time in and out of Tokyo Wan too many times to count.

Went in once without radar at night. Old school pucker factor will learn you something new and keep one on their toes.

All ships have a blind spot. I was taught by a sound Navy Captain to always step out on the bridge wings and look aft prior to any turn. Good lesson which I still use and hopefully manage to pass on.


#415

Good luck with getting the young generation to lift their heads above whatever screen they are posted in front of at the time.

I go back to when there were no air conditioned wheelhouse and ears and eyes were main tools of navigation.
In 1974 I was even Master on an old ex Dutch Interisland vessels that had never had a radar installed. We were sailing in East Indonesia, where the accuracy of the charts were not great and lighthouses and buoys were rare. The few that existed usually did not work because the gas had been stolen before even reaching the intended location. (The logic being applied was; “why waste time on replacing gas cylinders when the locals will steal them within days? Better to sell to highest bidder right here at the base”)

PS> A Seismic vessel on transit through the Moluccas, with the latest and best of navigation equipment for the time (early 1970’s) run aground on a reef surrounding an island in broad daylight. Why?? Because the instruments told the 2nd Mate that he would clear with good margin. (The entire island was charted 1.5 n.m. wrong)


#416

Relying on the AIS track data for the ACX Crystal posted online at “Vessel of Interest”, and using the Law of Cosines (v1^2 + v2^2 - 2 v1 v2 = Delta_v^2), I calculate that by far the largest change of momentum (change of speed and direction) occurred between the 1:30am - 1:33am data-points. Of course, that is visually obvious on the track also – there is more speed change & more heading change between the 1:30am - 1:33am data-points than between any others.

Therefore, that tells me, that the collision happened after 1:30am and before 1:33am. The “delta_v” from 1:27am - 1:30am of 5.7 knots is consistent with Captain Advincula’s claim of his hard turn to starboard immediately prior to the collision. The “delta_v” from 1:30am - 1:33am of 12.7 knots is consistent with a combination of further maneuvering commands from the Captain (steering hard to starboard with engines in full reverse) compounding the collision with the warship (and large momentum transfer to it).

From 1:33am onwards, the Crystal was obviously recovering its course, implying the collision had already occurred. For 15 minutes after the collision, the Crystal accelerated unevenly, and returned to its original heading unevenly, perhaps suggesting manual control of the helm, and/or after-effects of the impact ?

At any rate, let us briefly accept that the collision happened around 1:31am (say), just after the 1:30am AIS ping and before the next one at 1:33am. Then, given that, at 1:30am, the merchant vessel’s course was tracking 88 degrees, and its heading over to its starboard at 112 degrees…

And assuming that the collision happened soon but after that…

Then the collision would have occurred with the Crystal heading perhaps 120-130 degrees SE…

Which implies that the warship was coming into the collision on a heading of 150-170 degrees SSE…

assuming a grazing contact at a relative angle of 30-40 degrees difference in headings…

If this is qualitatively accurate, and if Captain Advincula’s testimony that the warship had been paralleling his ship eastward for a protracted period prior to the collision, then it would appear as if the warship was travelling due east along the shipping lane nearer the coast of Japan…

but instead of turning NNE up towards Yokosuka, it instead turned SSE, towards the Nii-Jima / Shikine-Jima resort islands…

Given the consensus that the warship was returning to base, perhaps it got a middle-of-the-night clearance for some R&R at the hot-springs & baths on those islands? Perhaps everyone aboard was in a jubilant & relaxed mood?? Perhaps they were aware of the Crystal but their onboard ships’ track extrapolation algorithms somehow miscalculated the position of the merchant vessel – their instruments were telling everyone they would cut across the Crystal’s track ahead of it, but to everyone’s sudden shocked surprise, some miscalibration or miscalculation got the warship skewered on its bulbous bow instead???


#417

I’m not either.

If for no other reason to avoid setting a precedent.

That’s a weak justification. This isn’t the US federal courts where a precedent can effectively have the force of law. The USN can easily decide in the future either way.

It does not mean the navy is not co operating.

It does. “Full cooperation” was promised by the man in charge, and now the host country is getting the statutory minimum. I think the USN made an initial statement containing the words they knew everyone wanted to hear, and now they’re crawfishing back. Most people’s definition of “full cooperation” is different from what the USN is doing here.

Or mean the navy is covering anything up. The appearance of a cover up would be much more damaging than saying our guys f!@#$% up.

Maybe.

Depends a bit what they are and is it something that has security value or not.

The Japanese are our trusted allies, there shouldn’t be a lot of harm that crew interviews could do to that. I feel sure that the Japanese authorities could find a reasonable compromise if the USN was willing.

If they released the audio of the 2012 collision.

A precedent! I can’t wait for them to follow it.

There not covering much up.

It remains to be seen, but it’s not a good look for the USN so far.


#418

You misunderstood. I was saying Fitz should have seen Crystal’s lights. A ship like Crystal is always trying to be seen. The impact was not consistent with ships abreast, and until we know Fitz’s course and speed we can only guess what she was doing earlier; it’s mighty dark out there. When Crystal had Fitz 3 miles out and 40 deg to port, we do not know whether that sighting was broadside or 45 deg oblique at even greater speed, so course may not have been abreast. If they had been running approx. abreast earlier, it would have been no cause for alarm at that time, as you suggested. Only when Fitz turned starboard should anyone have been concerned on either ship, if your idea of Fitz’s course is correct, and the Crystal’s captain has already submitted an initial report of which excerpts have been made available online. He gave his speed as 12 kts and he reported only flashing blinkers at Fitz, not mentioning any transmissions over VHF, which isn’t entirely unthinkable in the dark with Crystal’s bridge crew having no clear idea who or what Fitz was. How do you hail an unknown shape that doesn’t show up on AIS? Any way you can think of in the time you have, which appears to have been under 6 minutes. I like the thought process behind your speculation (that’s almost all anyone outside the investigation really has right now, including me). When looking at an accident like this, I’ve learned the “Ahso F*** Up” answer is usually nearest the right tack. If you haven’t heard that old NTSB yarn, google Capt. Kohei Asoh JAL Flt 2, 22 Nov 1968. It also unfolded with a lot of mistaken reports and speculation, as this incident has, so it’s actually an instructive case in point.


#419

You misunderstood. I was saying Fitz should have seen Crystal’s lights. Crystal is always trying to be seen. The impact was not consistent with ships abreast, and until we know Fitz’s course and speed we can only guess what she was doing earlier. Even if they had been running abreast earlier, it would have been no cause for alarm at that time, as you suggested. Only when Fitz turned starboard should anyone have been concerned on either ship, if your idea of Fitz’s course is correct, and the Crystal’s captain has already submitted an initial report, of which excerpts have been made available online. He gave his speed as 12 kts and he reported only flashing blinkers at Fitz, not mentioning any transmissions over VHF, which isn’t entirely unthinkable in the dark with Crystal’s bridge crew having no clear idea who or what Fitz was. How do you hail an unknown shape that doesn’t show up on AIS? Any way you can think of in the time you have. I like the thought process behind your speculation (that’s almost all anyone outside the investigation really has right now). When looking at an accident like this, I’ve learned the “Ahso F*** Up” answer is usually the right tack (if you know that old NTSB joke). If you haven’t heard it, google Capt. Kohei Asoh JAL Flt 2, 22 Nov 1968. It also unfolded with a lot of mistaken reports and speculation, as this incident has, so it’s actually an instructive case in point.


#420

I remember several very knowledgeable posters in this thread explaining why it would have been impossible for Crystal to change speed significantly on short notice, and IMPOSSIBLE to simply go to full astern. Perhaps you should read those posts before creating your detailed supposition of minute-by-minute events.

I will patently wait for the results of the investigation, and only wish the USN to be as forthcoming as they should be in this case.


#421

Yes so definitely, the Fitz MUST have seen the Crystal visually, on radar and whatever else they had available. I don’t think that is disputable.
The speed OG of the Crystal in the 10-15 minutes or so before the course change and near immediate collision was recorded as 18.5 kts., which MAY indicate that she was overtaking the Fitz, but may not have been aware of the existence of the warship much before that.

If all they saw was a weak blip on their radar and there were other weak blips indication fishing vessels w/o AIS, it is not too far fetched that they just ASSUMED that the Fitz was just another fishing vessel, but not an immediate danger.
They would be unlikely to make an ARPA plot of such a target when there were several other vessels in the vicinity that may be more of an immediate interest, thus not realizing that this one was moving at 12-15 kts. as some Navy guy indicated was normal transit speed for this type of warships.

Anyone who have stood on the bridge at night dodging fishing vessels and other commercial vessels, with a background of lights from shore, would recognize that scenario and what they would prioritize as targets.

PS> The “10 minutes” mentioned in the report about the statement of the Crystal’s Master may not be “intended to be taken literally”. (Popular subject these days) It could be wrongly reported or misunderstood by the Japanese Reporter, or something went missing in translation etc.
It is also possible that the Master was asleep until just before the collision and were referring to statement made by the OOW


#422

Maybe Fitz was chasing an N.Korea sub going to attack Washington, DC, and to wipe out Donald Trump, so Fitz had to turn starboard to save the world (and Donald T) but Crystal was not informed and … collision. Everything happens at sea all the time.


#423

Agreed. “The terrible ifs accumulate.” -Winston Churchill.