USS Fitzgerald collides with ACX Crystal off coast of Japan


Not to difficult to see that it is a naval vessel. Nationality might not be as readily apparent. If you can see a hull number, then hail them as “Navy warship xxx” on VHF16 and 13. If you can’t read a hull number, then try using position and cardinal heading, e.g. “Navy Warship in position XXX-YYY on a northerly heading, this is container ship ZZZ five miles on your starboard bow on a westerly heading”.

Navy personnel are trained to report visual contacts by relative bearing and target angle. E.G, a ship bearing 045 with a target angle of 270 is on my starboard bow and showing me his port beam. So my next concern is right or left bearing drift, using an alidade on a gyro repeater from the bridge wing, to assess risk of collision. Of course, contact should have been on radar plot with course, speed and CPA all calculated long before visual contact.

My 28 years in the USN ended 24 years ago, but good seamanship nevers ages.


Sad to say, the process of information is as convoluted as you described…I’ve always wondered why they give ranges in yards. Anyway, just saying, imagine broken english on one end and how much more difficult would a routine passing arrangement become?

I had a prior job where I worked for the navy assisting with training, and for the most part I would say a warship bridge is more vigilant than a commercial vessel bridge, because obviously there is more manpower. However, I always suspected that regardless of manpower, warship crews are fatigued just as bad if not worse than the commercial sector. Broken sleep caused by constant drilling and such.

Then again there have been plenty of other times in my career that I can recall having better luck hailing a sailboat than a warship, so of course there’s an exception to the rule.

Will the root cause of this horrible incident point solely to loss of situational awareness?


Easy enough but, as mentioned, my experience is that hailing with the hull number is often ignored and I’ve been chastised on multiple occasions for transmitting the exact warship position.

Is that normally the case, a regional policy around San Diego… or do I just have bad luck?

I understand why they do this internally… but do they not understand that transmitting relative bearings, target angles and distance in yards (rather than Nautical Miles, feet or meters) via VHF is a bad idea? …especially when talking to a foreign ship with a very limited set of English vocabulary words.


Like the details. Thanks. Unnerving to be referred to as a “target” in this case though eh?


As far as counter wise proved, I think the Japanese journalists are more obedient than our scribblers are.
They know, but they never, ever would write it…

It seems, the overtaking situation, with the same destination, was born in this forum, with the following large and strange discussions.

I do NOT know!


Good point!

Maybe but the bigger question is why the CO lost situational awareness? The answer to that probably points to communication and failure of Bridge Resource Management.


[quote=“Urs, post:85, topic:45129”]
As far as counter wise proved, I think the Japanese journalists are more obedient than our scribblers are. [/quote]

I agree, with some notable exceptions (I like to think gCaptain is one) the media is useless on these matters and your far better off ignoring what they say.

The problem is that, once upon a time, all major media publications employed a “dock reporter”… who was a journalist that spent most of his time on the docks, at union halls and in the offices of steam ship companies. Today a journalist is deemed qualified to write about ships if he knows the difference between port and starboard.


We moved from Norfolk, VA to SWFL a year ago. Lots of offshore fishing off Norfolk, so a great deal of naval and merchant vessel traffic. I have heard the USN ships refer to themselves as “Navy warship” or “Navy Warship xxx”. I have hailed them by the latter form when I could see a hull number, and never been chastised for it. Even after 9/11 and the USS Cole incident tightened up security so much. When they are out in the Navy Operating Areas off Virginia Beach, they will frequently transmit “This is Navy Warship xxx, at position XXX-YYY, declaring a five mile radius safety zone for small arms firing”

On USN ships before AIS, trying to hail a merchant vessel and getting a response was just as frustrating. You would call for a merchant ship at XXX-YYY position on course CCC at speed SSS and get no response. I don’t recall ever hearing relative bearings and target angles transmitted on VHF, but anything can happen, eh.


…or he knows that there is a difference and it has something to do with left/right, and then, he is promoted “1st Journalist”.

I know you are trying to translate the common news to understandable real news.
Go on… you are not responsible for the forum members’ thoughts …


The fact that there is an incident that involved a USN vessel is not a huge surprise to me, nor anyone else on these forums. I firmly believe that the large presence of personnel and division of labor on a USN bridge greatly lengthens and the error chains and creates opportunity for incidents like this to occur. I also feel that the USN should create an officer track that focuses primarily on navigation and seamanship (i.e. Deck Track), rather the officers becoming jacks of all trades. My 2 cents.


You are absolutely correct. While a main engine of this or similar type can be run with HFO 380 cSt at any speed, even at very slow revolutions for quite a period of time , it requires some additional care. Even if the WO abruptly pulls the handle from Full ahead to half or even dead slow he has to inform the Captain and Chief Eng. immediately.
In the ER you have to start an additional generator in order to supply power to the auxiliary blowers which cut in under 45 % load and start the auxiliary boiler to supply enough steam for the fuel oil preheaters . Thus the correct fuel injection viscosity is maintained and nothing bad will happen with your maneuverability. Additionally you have to stop the fresh water evaporator which I would not use in the Japanese waters anyhow.
But as seen from my personal experience on huge container vessels, the Second mate at this time was there on the bridge without the required AB (as lookout) and he might have been busy in the chart room to do some paperwork. But apart from that daily routine in merchant marine life a warship never should come that near other than in the line of attack. I am looking forward to some really interesting aspects of life on a warship.


Looking closer at the Marine Traffic plot as well as the provided slides from the Japanese News Article, it looks like the Crystal made a slight course alteration to port just before the collision that could have closed the CPA on the Fitzgerald significantly.

I have seen actions like this by other vessels where they are following their voyage plan with no regard to the traffic around them. Possibly while allowing the ECDIS to steer the autopilot. I caution mates to be on guard for these kinds of scenarios all the time. God forbid the ship falls off the “train track” of the track line. As with most casualties, there are going to be answers to be had from both sides on this one.


must be something like a large OSV 1st captain being deemed qualified a merchant ship master except for the knowing port from starboard bit…to dem bubbas in dat Foochon bayoo it’s see’in yoo on da wun or da too


I certainly don’t disagree that too many people involved can create problems unless good bridge management is maintained.

I also don’t disagree too much on the deck specialist approach. The USN is one of the few that have their Unrestricted Line Surface Warfare Officers be ‘jack of all trades’. I had the pleasure of doing two six-month deployments with a squadron of NATO ships, mid '70s and mid-80’s, and found that most organize their surface officers into Marine Engineering Officers (MEO), Weapons Electronics Officers (WEO) and Principal Warfare Officers (PWO). The PWO are the bridge and CIC ship-driving, war-fighting watchstanders.

I’m a Navy Mustang - seven years enlisted before I got commissioned, then 21 years as an officer. Trained as an engineering type, served in engineering departments, served as Chief Engineer, and hold a BSME degree. But also trained for deck watches and spent of thousands of hours on the bridge as JOOW, JOOD and OOD. USCG credited me with 2,077 days underway as a bridge watch officer, plus enough days of engineering watches to sit for 1stAE, Steam, Unlimited HP.

All a long time ago. Now I am >70 and just take our 27ft Grady-White offshore fishing.


Just what I said in my initial post about six hours ago.

From the AIS plot above, it looks like 12 or 13 minutes between the port course alteration and the impact.

As Oildrop said, “But as seen from my personal experience on huge container vessels, the Second mate at this time was there on the bridge without the required AB (as lookout) and he might have been busy in the chart room to do some paperwork.” So easy to close on the Fitz and never know anything until the collision.

Again, though, no excuse for the Fitz not to see that and take action when in Extremis.



That’s the most logical sounding theory so far.

They usually transmit when on inland US waters, though only the lead vessel in the convoy.

That’s the only way I’ve ever talked to a Navy vessel. They call themselves “Warship XX” on the radio so I call them that back.


The theory of the accident happening at 0130 am does make a lot of sense, but there are some problems with it.

It is said that the Crystal was running on autopilot, and that this was the reason for time it took to make the U-turn, and also for the time it took to alert the Japenese coast guard.

If this was true, it would mean that no one was on the bridge of the Crystal when it hit the Fitzgerald.

Now, is apparent the Crystal ran into the Fitz from a relatively straight angle, though not fullly 90 degrees. No doubt the bulb struck the Fitz below the waterline to flood the berths, of which nothing can be seen on the photos. We only see damage above the freeboard. This is also supported by the rip in the stem.

It is said that it took about half an hour for the crew of the Crystal to get onto the bride and make a U-turn, in order to find out what they hit. So, the crew never saw the Fitz, not before, under or after the collision (before the U-turn)

Now, I don’t have detailed knowledge about ships autopilots, but I am pretty sure they won’t stop, apply reverse, move off and start going forward again, once they hit something.

However, if the story is going to stick, this is what have must happened.

Because, simply, if the Crystal did not back away from the Fitz right after the collision. Both ships would have had much much more damage in the form of “scratches” and the like along the sides of the ships, for ships this size just don’t bounce off of each other after a hit like this. Considering this, and the lack of this type of “post initial crash” damage. I am wondering if it could have been that the Fitz was actually not making way through the water, but actually lying still when she was hit. The Crystal backs off, goes around. Panic on the bridge, no doubt. It takes half an hour for the crew to get the minds set straight and decide to return to the scene, and realise they need to call the accident in to the coast guard.

Big question is, why are the US still claiming it happened 0220 am. Lack of communication, would be my guess. But why didn’t the Fitz report the accident right away, and why is no one questioning why they didn’t.


I’ve read that the first report to JCG was from Crystal at 0225. They either indicated, or were understood, that the collision had just happened. The JCG noted it at 0220, then contacted Fitz and received confirmation of the collision.

I don’t believe that Fitz ever initiated a report and I attribute that to the initial physical and mental shock of the impact, immediately followed by the all hands effort at damage control, power restoration, etc.
“Calling it in” would not have been in my top ten actions either.


Sorry, I should have included this link in my post. The JCG is now of the opinion that the crash occured at 0130 am and that the ACX Crystal confirms this