USS Fitzgerald collides with ACX Crystal off coast of Japan


One other thing that makes me a bit puzzled, is the fact that it was initially said in the media that the waters where the accident happend see very heavy ship traffic.

Running on auto pilot with all crew sound asleep in an area with very heavy traffic would hardly be an option, would it?


I find it very hard to believe that no one was on the bridge at all and would have to question this “defense expert”. Where is he forming this theory from? You mention that you are not that familiar with ship’s autopilot system so I assume you are not familiar with BNWAS motion detecting watch alarm systems. Sure they can be fooled with enough effort, but the more probable case was an officer on the bridge, back in the chart room on the internet or on the phone. None of these are acceptable by any measure of proper seamanship.

I also do not see why you think the vessels collided, came to a stop, and then had to back off. The AIS track shows very little reduction in speed even after the collision. There is a large amount of kinetic energy when two objects like this come in contact at any speed. It’s entirely possible that the drastic 90 degree turn was from the impact and the ECDIS controlled autopilot then brought the ship back to a course made good to the next waypoint. Anything is possible at this point, but the investigation is going to have to play out.

I just can’t fathom a totally unmanned bridge in that congested a waterway. But then again, it could be the nightmare scenario that has woken me up in cold sweats all these years. For every “professional” mariner out here, I sure hope not.


Except that extra manpower creates hurdles in the decision making chain and there become many more places for the ball to be dropped.

Exactly. A system where there is one person on the bridge, or one officer and a lookout makes decision making much simpler in normal situations.

That would probably help things significantly.


Can you fathom this unmanned bridge in less congested waters?


This made me chuckle a bit as I remember one of my old captains claiming that some enterprising Greeks had trained dogs to bark when they saw a ship and frequently ran with wheel houses manned by said K9s and no one else. He was adamant about it. We’d see ships in out in the ocean and he’d say “I wonder if the dogs barking?” or “don’t get too close there only a dog over there!”


With the timeline correct this incident seems relatively straight forward. It appears that the container ship made a routine course change to pass east of Oshima en route Tokyo Bay. After the container ship made the course change the track of the two ships converged and they collided.

As to the reasons why each ship was unaware of the developing close quarters situation, likely for whatever reason the watch on each ship lacked sufficient situational awareness.


Here are my thoughts on what we know about the incident so far:


You’re getting warm, lm1883.

Normal complement for a small-ish warship bridge team back in the 80’s (routine at-sea ops / not with special sea detail set) was OOD, QMOW, BMOW, and a 3-way rotation for helmsman, lookout and bridge messenger. There could, in addition, be a JOOD, extra lookouts and/or trainees at every position. Our little bridge, including the wings and fly bridge, used to get pretty crowded at times. Good management and use of available resources was not to be assumed. Entering port? It could be a real shit show. And I’m not even counting the potential clusterfuck of radarmen, sonarmen and fire control technicians in the CIC.

OOD’s & JOOD’s were usually ensigns on their first 18-month tour after the academy. An “experienced watch officer” was one that had made jg and was awaiting transfer. With relatively few exceptions, by the time any junior officer had gained much more than minimal experience they were gone. Mid-grade and senior officers, O-3’s to O-6’s, and warrant officers, who may or may not have significant relevant experience were few in number and not on the bridge all the time.

So yes, JK, naval and coast guard vessels generally have more resources, at least nominally, than do typical undermanned merchant ships. But the raw numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story.

In fact sometimes, when you are dealing with a bridge teeming with personnel, less is more.

And as for being better rested? Dream on. Very seldom did we get enough rest on patrols. We were almost always in a variable state of fatigue. Operational and training tempos could be positively brutal.


What are your thoughts on giving the Chief Petty officer on the bridge more encouragement to speak up about mistakes made by the watch officer? Or just giving him the authorization and encouragement to call the Captain regardless of whether the OOD feels the need to wake the old man?

I just find the fact that a dozen or so people where manning the bridge and CIC during the incident while the captain was in his cabin.


That’s how the navy addresses themselfs in Norfolk , this is navy warship xyz letting go lines blank blank blank peir 12 and will proceed outbound to sea via thimble shoals… regardless . Rest easy to the 7 men who lost their lives over something that could have been avoided.


Absolutely not. Just saying that it’s colossal dereliction of duty either way you look at it and I think the more likely dereliction of duty was not standing a proper lookout while an officer was on the bridge.


[QUOTE]What are your thoughts on giving the Chief Petty officer on the bridge more encouragement to speak up about mistakes made by the watch officer? Or just giving him the authorization and encouragement to call the Captain regardless of whether the OOD feels the need to wake the old man?[/QUOTE]

That doesn’t assure that advice from the peanut gallery would be considered. Remember the WSF driver was courteously advised that a slight course change might prevent a collision. Given the boundaries between enlisted and officer class and the very strong tradition of never questioning or even appearing to question a superior, it is highly unlikely that encouraging comment would be acceptable under any circumstance.

The Navy seems to have a very short memory but I think the admirals would look at such input as running a bit too close to the wind that put German and Russian navies on the rocks in 1918.


This is to be expected considering the decline in print media circulation and considering that TV news reporters in small markets have to do their own camera work. But this alone isn’t a major issue, provided the reporter has good judgment in choosing the “experts” that advise them on technical matters. The problem is that a lot of them don’t have that.


The confusion about time of collision must now be considered dead, but the reason why it occurred and lasted for a whole day in the media, causing all kinds of ridiculous speculations, is worth looking into.

One such speculation is that the cause had something to do with the Crystal being on Autopilot and that the bridge may not even have been manned at the time is hogwash.
Yes she was on Autopilot, as nearly all ships are these days, but to turn off the Autopilot is a simple press of a button and not a complicated operation. The Autopilot may even have been connected to the ECDIS and able to alter course automatically at set waypoint. (If the Crystal was equipped with ECDIS(??))
More likely than not the bridge was manned by the 2nd Officer and an AB as lookout, which is normal and compulsory. Whether they were alert and aware of the danger they were steaming into is another question.

As explained by many, stopping, reversing, or even slowing down the engine on a ship like the Crystal while at sea speed is not something that can be done by simply pulling back on the throttle on the bridge. As can be seen from the MT plot the Crystal continued at near same speed for quite a while after the collision.

That she turned back to near her original course MAY be an indication that the Autopilot was not immediately turned off. But the abrupt turn just after the collision MAY indicate that it was and that manual steering was established, maybe even in the last minute(s) BEFORE the collision.

The damages to the Crystal indicate clearly that the collision was not “head on”, but the fact that the bulbous penetrated the hull of the other vessel tells us that it was not a “glancing blow” at near same course. The relative bearing AT TIME OF IMPACT appear to have been somewhere around 135 degr., but that does NOT tell us what the courses were a few minutes before impact and who was doing what to avoid collision, if anything.

That the Crystal returned to the scene of the collision is strictly per written and unwritten laws of the sea, once they had established the extent of damage and danger to own vessel.

All the officers on the Crystal were Filipinos and thus able to communicate in English, as the Maritime Schools in the Philippines teach in English. Whether there were any communication between the two vessels prior to the collision is not yet known. (If so were the Fritz using terms that could be understood by civilians??)

But regardless of all these speculations; why did an agile and alert war ship, capable of near instant speed change and/or “turning on a dime”, allow itself to be rammed amidships by a lumbering merchant ship. THAT IS THE MAIN QUESTION.


Now I know who you are, I thought I recognized that screen name.

The Grady White gave it away.


Is that good or bad?


The CPO generally needs no encouragement to speak out, and typically they will. Remember the adage “chiefs run the navy”. Maybe Ocnslr can give us more insight since he is a mustang and has seen life on both sides of that fence.

I can seen the CO giving a trusted CPO the permission to discreetly call him but to make it policy defies the logic of having a command structure (USN bridges are crazy enough with out any more confusion). Think of it this way, would you want your AB calling the captain because he felt you were making an unwise decision or rather him say to you “hey mate, do you think we should call the captain?”


In my experience having the bridge team speak up is not an issue, that’s how it worked. For example "Plot shows x distance right of track recommend come left steer course C. Standard practice.

I was QM on watch one day in Alaska when the OOD wanted to take the ship up close to Sanak Island aka “The Rock Pile” I called the ops officer and he came right up. We turned 180 and went back out the way we came in.


Track and turn to port (NE) of Crystal just before “revised” collision time might be explained and predicted by the (voluntary) TSS - see page 65 of Enroute Sailing Dirn. Pub 158.
[i.e. pg 72 of the pdf at ]


Well, looking at the track, the Crystal changes direction several times in “no time”. The track shows both 90 and 180 degree turns in between two samples. But just as these ships won’t stop on a dime, they won’t really turn on one either. To judge exactly what happened in a rather short moment of time based on the tracking is propably not doable. Also, turning 90 degrees is, physically, to decelerate to full stop and accelerate to full speed in the respective directions.

Also, when it comes to the angle at which the ships collided, making a judgement based on the damages on the ACX Crystal alone is completely impossible. For the simple reason that the geometry of the Fitzgerald has a great part in what the damages on the Crystal looks like. It could very well have been a crash at an angle less than 90 degrees as well. I’m not saying it was or even that I think it was, but given the damages we see in the photos, one or the other is not a given. It is important to notice that the Crystal hit the Fitz in the front part of its superstructure. Assuming the Crystal hit the Fitz at exactly 90 degrees, there would still not be any damages to the startboard side of the Crystal, and if the centerine of the bow of the Crystal hit just in front of the Fitz superstructure, we could expect damages looking like what we see. If the Crystal hit Fitz at 135 degrees, perhaps it could look the same, but my guess is that the damages would be much further extended along the sides of both ships, and I think the damages on the Fitz would have been different had she been hit from “behind” at 135 degrees. It would also mean that the Crystal was running at higher speed than the Fitz. But then again, my guess is that the Fitz was stationary, not making way. :slight_smile:

If the Crystal did not reverse away from the Fitz, it would mean that the ships have had to come apart while traveling forward, maybe one of them standing still. Which in turn means that both ships must have come to a position where they were alongside of each other. Doing that in a crash like this, without any damage along the side of any of the ships, doesn’t sound likely to me. They must, more or less, in that case, have “bounced” off of each other, and that also doesn’t sound very likely.

Imagine also all the extra damage inflicted below the waterline, by the bulb, if the crystal didn’t “go back” the same way she came in, but instead kept moving forward and sheared away from the Fitz. That’s not an argument it didn’t happen that way. But it is a darn good reason not to do it that way :wink:

I am also thinking that the Crystal had managed to slow down its speed considerably at the time of impact. Had she hit the Fitz the way she did, doing 15 knots, damages to the Fitz would have been way way more serious.

I guess we’re having two crews of which neither is all that keen on telling all the details of what happened. I mean, if it takes a couple of days just to agree on whether the crash occurd an hour earlier or later…