USS Fitzgerald collides with ACX Crystal off coast of Japan


I’m just going to remind everyone of my psychic prediction.


It’s almost like they’ve done this before…


I offer that the best fit to that information is the USS Fitzgerald heading due east at approximately 12 knots evidently heading straight towards Toshima island. The ACX Crystal came up behind her at a much higher rate of speed, and drove into the warship after turning 20 degrees NE onto a crossing course. I don’t understand exactly why the freighter turned almost 100 degrees to its starboard before correcting its own course, but this scenario could also be consistent with the merchantman on pure auto-pilot, with no one aboard the boat aware of much of anything until after the fact.

I say this because, if the ACX was inbound at only a 20 degree relative impact angle, then even the slightest turn to starboard would have avoided a collision… the damage to both ships is consistent with a 20-degree impact angle, maybe more, but not much less…

I offer that the 16:30 AIS ping captured the collision in progress, or immediately after, with the freighter moving on an 88-degree course track, and oriented at 112 degrees heading. If the warship really was heading due east at the time of collision, then the freighter very arguably did not turn at all prior to impact.


The information that the Fitz was 040 at 3 miles came from the captain of the Crystal. Where would the Captain get that information if nobody was aware that the Fitz was there?


I think there is a very tragic story potentially still on the table, which may account for the delays in any findings being released (I mean c’mon…they know exactly what happened by now). If we accept the Crystal account, Fitz accelerated late to cross the tee. If that’s the case, Fitz had likely lost track of that contact (or at least considered it opening). They rediscover the contact CBDR late. OOD panics and accelerates to cross the tee without calling CO. the only reason you do that is if you don’t want the CO to know what you are doing…or that you have somehow put the ship in that position. I suspect the OOD will say he didn’t have times to call the CO. But he had time to give the “all ahead flank”? Unfortunately I think it’s possible that the OOD realized calling the CO to the bridge in that instance would have been a career-ender…and decided not to call the CO. And if you’re too embarrassed to call the CO to the bridge because you lost track of a contact…I’m not sure sounding the collision alarm was in the solution set either. The OOD–may–have bet the house on getting in front of Crystal and escaping with his job intact. I really hope there is a better story but that’s the only way I can reconcile the lack of a call to the CO or failure to sound the collision alarm. As has been noted in this excellent forum, not all US Navy JOs standing bridge watches are seasoned mariners. They are technically trained well…know the rules…and how to respond to known casualties, but lack the “feel” for maneuvering at sea. And I speak from experience. As a 23-yr-old OOD in the Persian gulf I had to be bailed out by a tanker when I yielded the right-of-way in a crossing situation because I was too concerned about staying in my “box” and not basic ship handling. I never had another stbd/stbd passage in my career!

In any event…the story of the OOD will be the most tragic. He/she failed on multiple levels and will take most of the blame. The CO will be blamed for putting the OOD in that position in the first place. But it would be nice if the Navy could take some of the responsibility too. I’m proud to have been a SWO in my early career, but I also recognized that what I went through for an OOD Underway letter was no where near as rigorous as what my friends in aviation or submarines went through in terms of in terms of handling their machines. Good ship driving is just as hard as flying an airplane and I just wish the Navy would recognize that.


Disagree all you want. I stated in no uncertain terms that I, and probably almost ever other merchant marine on this site, do not consider the sea my “enemy” as it was described in the post to which I replied. I never said it was not a potentially hazardous environment or a ship is not a potentially dangerous workplace. Don’t try to change my words or message.

And don’t try to play the submariner special person card, it simply is not worth that much.

Yes, I have silver dolphins, earned the hard way on a diesel boat. I also worked as a deep submersible pilot for a Canadian submersible builder operator diving a 2-man boat to more than a mile deep on a regular basis from a drillship off the west coast of Africa and nearly that deep in many other locations around the world. As far as technical risks, doing that so far exceeded riding Navy subs as to make them seem like pleasure vessels but it still didn’t take superior skills or courage or mean the sea was my enemy.

Your nuke boat riding was no big deal and more than likely your approach to it will be a huge problem for you and your “shipmates” if you ever work on a merchant vessel.


So you would disagree with our fellow submariner whom I quoted, who said “oh God the sea is so great and my ship is so small”? Especially if you went underway on diesel boats, I would think you would have heard people saying stuff like that. I certainly heard it on modern submarines. If you don’t see it that way, that’s fine, I guess. But many, many people in the Navy do see it that way. I would imagine that many merchant mariners also see it that way. The sea is a harsh mistress.

I disagree. Most people couldn’t do what we do. You should know that.

lol…I don’t know what your deal is, man. You’re a Navy veteran, a submarine veteran even. Yet you’re constantly saying the Navy is a horrible organization, incompetent etc. I suppose that means you’re incompetent too, right? Since you were in the Navy? Or when you get out it makes you competent again? lol. yeah, okay. Maybe you were competent back then and competent now. You seem like a competent person to me. So if you were competent, it stands to reason that others in the Navy were competent. :smile:


Have nice 4th Neut.


Well, I do, shipmate. But it seems like a lot of people on this web site are coming from this weird place of “the Navy occasionally makes mistakes, therefore they are an incompetent organization” and I’m just not on the same page as people who say that. The US Merchant Marine occasionally makes mistakes too. You don’t see me saying that the US Merchant Marine is an incompetent organization and a failure. I definitely agree that working at sea is hard. Thanks for your service up there on the surface. :smile:


Most of us spend 180-240 days a year at sea standing underway watches on the bridge and machinery spaces. How many actual underway sea days does the average navy sailor spend at sea underway standing nav and engineering watches?


They tried, but no dice


Please quit the “ship mate” shit. If I ever referred to one of my crew as ship mate I’m pretty sure I’d get knifed. I think Steamer is correct. You and the DSD are made for each other.


One possibility that comes to mind, if the Fitz was not making way when first seen by the Crystal the Fitz may have been performing some operation. Assuming that’s the case then operations may have required a move to another location.

The OOD might (for example) have been steadying the ship on the course to the next waypoint but not on a traffic avoidance course. Or some similar error.

I’ve seen this on merchant ships, coming into pick up a pilot, get the word no pilot for a few hours so the ship needs to turn around and go back out the track-line and I’ve seen an order for hard rudder without regard for traffic or deep water.

Any time there is a transition, especially unplanned or unexpected there is a chance of error.


About that, sometimes more, or at least when I was in the USN. 6 month cruise every 2 years plus all the work ups and training cruises.
USN ships turn over 25-33 % of its crew every two years hence the constant training.


In April 1976 I joined a frigate as CHENG, half way through a six-month Med deployment. The ship had also deployed to the Med in Jan-July of 1975, so everyone was happy when we got home in July 1976 and weren’t supposed to deploy for 18 months. In mid-October, we were notified that we would be replacing another ship and deploying again on January 4th. Near the end of this third January-July deployment in three years, the ship was queried as to why our retention of first-term enlisted was so far below the fleet averages. The XO was fuming and wanted to write the response, but the CO did it himself. Typical six-month deployment back then was mostly underway, with a few short port visits and one maintenance period alongside a tender. That maintenance period was the only time we got to shut down the plant, and with no donkey to make service steam we kept a main boiler and SSTGs up, even if shore power was available.


Well, I acknowledge that is good thinking, in addition plausibly true… guess I assumed the ships’ onboard computers driving the auto-pilot would actually log the data & keep records which the Captain could consult after the fact?

According to this article, most merchant ships turn on a circle having a diameter equal to 3-4 ship’s lengths “at full speed with the helm at 35 degrees”. If the ACX was turning hard, then perhaps D = 3L ~= 2000’, R = D/2 = 1000’ in round numbers.

If you accept the “warship due east, ACX ENE” impact scenario, then the ACX could have turned no more than 20 degrees… that translates to a forward distance of travel, or arc length around that turning circle, of at most Rtheta = R(2pi 20/360) = R*(pi/9) ~= R/3 ~= 300’ = 100yards. At 18 knots, the ACX would have covered a hundred yards every 10s.

Now, that is rather rough, but the calculation shows that the ACX, in the above scenario, did not begin any maneuvers much more than 100 yards from the warship. If you visualize that, 100 yards being hardly more than half of the warship’s waterline, then… if anything… a turn at such a late stage would only have moved the impact point further forward along the warship’s hull…

given that the final impact was straight into the central superstructure, then without any turning inputs, the freighter would have clipped the warship’s stern or possibly even just barely missed the vessel entirely.

So I offer that it is very hard to distinguish between “no turn at all” and “100 yards = 10s” of turn – and, if any turn to starboard was actually undertaken, it may have made the impact more severe, perhaps a turn to PORT would have avoided a collision altogether?? Of course, if the Captain really was on the bridge, he had a duty to do something, he could slam into a Navy vessel having done nothing to avoid an impact… and a turn to PORT would have been a much riskier maneuver… a turn to starboard would have been the safest and most acceptable option from 100yards = 10s to impact… I just don’t understand why an evasive maneuver would have been initiated so late in the drama. Nor do I know how to distinguish between “no turn” and “at most 100yards of turn for at most 10s”. One wonders if both ships somehow thought there was “just enough” room to avoid collision all the way up until the very last possible moment?


Fill in the blanks on this scenario.

Ok so I graduate from a maritime academy with a 3rd mate oceans. I’m lucky enough to stay consistently employed 180-240 days a year for the next 10 years. During that 10 year period I take all required classes for upgrade and obtain a master unlimited. Counting the academy I’m 14 years into my career and sail chief mate relief master for my company. At this time I have around 2,000 actual days of underway sea time standing nav watches.

Now let’s say I’m a graduate from Annapolis. If I understand the scenario most officers cross train in various departments and positions with the ultimate goal of being CO of their own ship. So I’ve spent four years at the academy and 10 years in the surface fleet. At this point in my career how many actual days of underway sea time standing my own watch as an OOD do I have? If I’m a go getter and played politics the right way will I have had my first command yet? If not will I have at least made XO?


Three ship lengths is a good rule of thumb. It would not just be a simple circle however, an advance and transfer diagram would give better detail about how a ship turns.

The only information we have about the Fitz is from the master of the Crystal. hard to say how much weight to give the statement made by the Crystals’ master but he would know that there is a AIS, ECDIS and VDR record.


The top of a ship’s watertight hull is the main deck. On top of the main deck is a weather tight superstructure or a not weather tight deckhouse. A ship floats on its hull. A ship does not float on superstructures or deckhouses, as they are normally above water and not watertight.

In this case the Crystal forecastle – a superstructure normally used to store paint, ropes, equipment for deck maintenance – contacted the Fitz superstructure or deckhouse full of people and secret equipment to control weapons of all kind at 16.30 UTC. The contact forces of the collision deformed the Crystal port side forecastle bulwark and ripped open the starboard side plate, deformed and crushed the interior of the Fitz superstructure/deckhouse. There were no hull damages. The collision forces also changed the courses and speed of the two ships. Collision forces are always associated with big noises, when structures are damaged and deformed and thus heard and felt by crews aboard.

From a ship structural point of view the collision was minor – a light touch with some buckles - so the ships could continue to their destinations. Unfortunately people were killed and injured on the Fitz that happened to be inside the superstructure/deck house.

Normally after a collision of this type the ships enter in contact with each other to identify one another, etc. Apparently this didn’t happen. The Fitz is a US warship on a secret mission. The Crystal is a merchant vessel, which turned back to see if the Fitz had sunk. A helicopter arrived to lift off the injured of the Fitz, which then continued to its destination Yokosuka not far away. Crystal went to Tokyo. The Japan Transport Safety Board should investigate what happened.


This is incorrect. Fitzgerald has a quite significant hole (something like 400 sq ft in size) under the waterline caused by the Crystal bulb impact.