USS Fitzgerald collides with ACX Crystal off coast of Japan


Somehow I doubt this. Regardless of the loading condition, the container ship had several times the displacement of the destroyer. The global moment required to turn the 700 ft hull about a vertical axis would have been of such magnitude that either the bulbous bow lodged inside the destroyer’s hull would have been ripped off or at least bent (as happened when Corvus J hit the Baltic Ace), or it would have dragged along the shell like a knife. However, judging from the photographs of both ACX Crystal and USS Fitzgerald, neither of this happened: the bulbous bow appears nearly intact and the hole on the side looks a “stab wound”. Thus, to me it appears that both vessels were traveling roughly to the same direction with relatively small speed difference. There’s also the damage that appears to having been caused by the anchor digging deeper and deeper into the deckhouse/superstructure.

Also, considering the size difference between the two vessels, I believe it would have been USS Fitzgerald that would have rolled against the container ship’s starboard bow (which is undamaged as far as I can tell).

However, I promise to stand corrected if I’m wrong.


Another opinion or explanation, with several comments.


A post was merged into an existing topic: Fixing the Fitz


Sorry, I didn’t mean roll in the typical context of a ship rolling but simply the angle between the two decreasing after impact. (I just edited out the poor word choice.)


No problem - I think I caught your meaning right. However, this is what I was thinking. However, considering that the impact point was well ahead of the COG/COF of the destroyer, I think it would have “rolled” on the port bow instead if the container ship had continued moving forward.


I’m noticing more navy ships actually broadcasting AIS signals lately, including surfaced subs and a LHD.


The Navy has said that the Fitzgerald was on a routine transit IIRC, to Yokosuka. In that case the info from the captain/crew of the Crystal that Fitz “starting moving” while under observation by the Crystal is likely incorrect.

Seems the most likely scenario is more or less parallel courses till the Crystal made it’s turn off Mikomoto Shima which, if the Fitz maintained course would have put the two ships on converging courses.


AIS displayed on an ECS, particularly with radar overlay, is the most useful collision avoidance tool.

Turning off AIS is a risky, even reckless, thing to do. For a great many watchstanders, if you don’t show up on AIS with your name and predictor line displayed, then you simply don’t exist. AIS should never be turned off without a very good reason for doing so.

It would be a very rare occasion when there might be a good reason to turn off AIS off the coast of the United States or Japan.


In the Singapore Strait and South China Sea some small vessels, notably tankers loaded with MGO, does turn off their AIS to avoid attention from pirates.

BTW; In one case a couple of years ago it was reported that a tanker was hijacked “in Singapore Strait” because it had “disappeared from radar” (i.e. not showing up on Marine Traffic) at a position off Batam. Actually she was boarded by pirates somewhere near Tioman Island in the South China Sea while enroute to Vietnam.

In reality the Master had switched off AIS to mask his position shortly after leaving Singapore waters. If a vessel of any size should “disappear from radar” in those waters, the VTS Operator would have raised an alarm, since it would have had to suddenly sink to do so.

The reason why the media is confusing AIS and airplane tracking systems with “radar” may be because one of the most popular and publicly available sources are called “Flight Radar”.


I would agree that this is a good idea in general. There is no compelling reason that I can think of in most normal circumstances where running with AIS turned off enhances safety.

The issue of “security” is usually way overblown. Any naval vessel should be able to broadcast an AIS signal that simply identifies it as a naval vessel, or even just a generic “vessel” if need be. It needn’t be specific (DDG, FFG, CG, CVN, etc.) to type or class. Of course it may be assumed by a potential or real enemy that any such signal may or must be a naval vessel. So what? The ships are not exactly invisible.

I don’t see how the USN can justify operating in busy shipping lanes without it, unless we are at war or nearly so. A ship lost from action due to an unnecessary and easily-avoidable collision is of no use to anyone and, in fact, becomes a significant burden. So the whole security argument falls apart quickly in the face of these results.

Could OOD’s not be authorized to turn on the AIS, at least temporarily, when designated minimum-CPA parameters would be breached? This shouldn’t be so difficult.


This is like a bad navigation virus, spreading from pilothouse to pilothouse, and it really needs to stop.

I agree that AIS should, in general, always be on. But if my mate ever tried to justify his or her failure to detect an otherwise-visible and/or radar contact with the bullshit excuse that they weren’t showing up on AIS that mate would be very lucky if all I did was make them take a time-out at the Navigation Re-Education Camp for Incompetent Seafarers. My inclination would be to fire them, and I f that sounds harsh it’s surely meant that way.

Incompetence? Laziness? Inattentiveness? There is absolutely no excuse for this attitude to be accepted or allowed to spread. None. However, I’m well aware that it exists. So shame on us all for collectively mis-using the technology that is supposed to help us avoid one another.

AIS can fail at any time. It’s just another radio device. It’s range is sometimes more limited than what it typically is, and “contacts” will at times drop-out without warning.

Dependence on AIS for primary or near-primary collision-avoidance is a clear indication of a serious competence or attention-span problem. That’s a red-line-in-the-sand issue for me. Radar/ARPA remains primary, and for good reason: you control your own radar, independent of what the other vessel(s) does or does not do, or how well (or not) their equipment is working.

So the Crystal does not get a pass in this case just because the Fitzgerald was running without AIS.


I believe you will find that “starting moving” may be a translation error. Others have translated it as '‘changed movement’ (the Japanese is not clear whether the ‘change’ was course or speed or both).

Regarding Navy AiS. Just remember that Navy does in fact consider themselves at war, with the potential to be attacked anywhere (eg Cole, etc). This is certainly debatable, but one can make a case that (1) Navy should be able to avoid collisions without AiS and (2) painting a big target on their ships in time of war is undesirable.


I agree with you, but . . . We must recognize reality. First, human nature is such that an over-reliance on useful gizmos does in fact develop, especially for the kids who have never sailed without it. Second, on too many vessels there is only one person actually watching, and that person too often does have additional duties, in the form of an overabundance of paperwork, including chart corrections, ISM papers, emails from the office demaninding this or that right now, etc. These additional duties are commonplace and certainly interfere with keeping a good watch.

Operating without AIS is high risk. A risk that should not be undertaken without a very compelling reason to do so.


The most useful tool for collision avoidance is the officer’s brain. Not to say that AIS is a fine tool, it is. So is radar when properly used. ARPA and VHF radio are as well when those are properly used. So is looking out the window and well done visual bearings along with the various visual signaling devices that have been mentioned on the forum recently. Any of our fine technological tools can be misused to the extent that the misuse can cause a collision if one or more officers make mistakes due to fatigue, distraction, lack of knowledge, poor procedures, or just plain messing up.

A don’t have a problem with naval vessels leaving AIS off and doubt that simply transmitting AIS data will prevent an incident like this from occurring again.


As usual, it all depends on how you define any given word, in this case “reality.”

If the reality is, as you state, that to not broadcast an AIS signal is to be essentially invisible to the typical OICNW then that war is probably lost. Once the mindset has taken root on the bridge or in the pilothouse that “I’m busy doing other stuff, so I look at the screens now and again and that’s good enough” (not putting words in your mouth, tugsailor, just paraphrasing a known-to-exist way of looking at watch duties) then you’re riding on luck. You can sometimes travel for amazing distances on luck. Years, decades and more. But it’s a very bad practice that I won’t tolerate.

I will not cut kids slack because they’ve never known a time without AIS. They’ve also usually got most everything else they truly need, tool-wise, with the possible exception of a designated lookout (the industry and regulatory agencies are responsible for the undermanning). If they were not trained to function without it then I explicitly educate them. If they can’t absorb and implement that knowledge, if they’re fully addicted to AIS, or a plotter, or whatever and cannot readily be rehabilitated then they have to go.

I cannot stress enough how dangerous this mindset is: if you don’t appear as an icon on a monitor with a predictor line and full course/speed/cpa information available in a bubble then you don’t exist. That is positively insane, either to think it or accept it on their vessels.

Everyone should think long and hard about that one.


Which makes it even more absurd that the crew of a vessel that considered they were liable to be attacked at any moment would miss the fact that a well lit and very large vessel transmitting an AIS data stream they should have seen long before the collision would allow themselves to be rammed. And rammed without even bothering to call the captain … it’s a good thing they didn’t consider themselves on a pleasure cruise up the bay.

The “security” card is horsecrap. Is Fleet Week a national secret until the ships drop their visibility cloaks and enter port? It is no secret that Navy ships come and go regularly along the shipping channels all over the world and concentrate near Navy bases. Bad guys are not quite as stupid as the admirals who decided turning off the AIS would keep the ships safe.

Until the Navy can declare every bit of land on the planet with an ocean view a “keep out - security zone” anyone who wants to can take out a Navy ship anytime they want to with a man carried missile they probably got from some Bumfukistan militia we gave it to in order to protect the assets of some campaign contributor.


I was always taught, still believe and pass on to crew, that the most useful collision avoidance tool is the “Mk.1 Eyeball”. Preferably aimed through the bridge windows, not just at the computer games on the screens!0


Again, I agree with you. I’m not worried about the watch on my vessel, or yours, its those other guys I worry about.


Not too many secrets left when this sort of thing is published.

The text describes make up of these units in a more detailed manner than I imagined would be broadcast.

Wouldn’t there be a way to embed some code in a Navy ships AIS system so that the info is picked up by surrounding ships in range BUT be excluded from any shore stations (NON-official VTS ones) or satellites picking it up where it could be displayed on the internet?


As a few others have mentioned and I alluded to in a previous post, people are drastically over-thinking the AIS issue.

I loved it when AIS came out, very handy. But, we don’t ‘need’ some new techno-tool or AIS upgrade. There’s nothing wrong with the advances in technology helping the officer on watch, but we better be able to safely navigate at all times should one of our favorite tools fail or give us misleading information.