Death and valor on a warship doomed by its own Navy


I wish I could have read the whole article but it kept going back to the beginning so I think I made it half way through.
I have a lot more sympathy with the young women who had the watch than I did earlier. Talk about being thrown under the bus.
My first observation is that at action stations every single person on a warship has a job or they are not onboard.
The period at action is usually and sometimes brutally short. The Battle of the River Plate, in which my father participated lasted about 80 minutes.
A warship is required to stay at a high standard of readiness for long periods and this is why there should be sufficient trained and experienced personnel to form a Port and Starboard watch. Thus alleviating fatigue.
To have a warship that I had previously regarded as representing the cutting edge of US technology having equipment operating in such a degraded state should have those at the top of the command censured.
The OOW of most of the Merchant ships would have had a better appreciation of the surface picture.


Maybe, I am very familiar with that area, there’s no way I’d trust most new third mates alone in the bridge crossing that line of traffic.

That’s basically the level those officers, difference being the navy officers are backed up by the ratings and CIC.


Well I have read the whole article now.
It’s not an investigation report. Even so it is enlightening. I wouldn’t claim to be familiar with the area. Having last been to Yokohama about 30 odd years ago.
I do recall my own near miss approaching the pilot station for Yokohama. I was a 3rd Mate. It worked out. Local authorities didn’t give a rats ass when we reported it.
The other vessel’s name is still emblazoned in my memory. I won’t mention it JIK.
It’s a very busy area and my recollection, there is a competitive aspect to getting there.

Crossing busy traffic lanes is a challenge anywhere. The article refers to the poor performance of 3 Radars, I found the story of the poor guy with the button to push interesting but strange.
The other radars also failing to detect a container ship due to clutter in clear weather and a 3ft sea state. Is odd.
Overtired people failing to keep an effective watch on the radar and missing something. Might be a bit more likley. They may even truly believe the radar was the problem. I ha ma doubts.

The communication and delegation of duties mystifies me. Why the references to distance or range are all in yards also confuses me. Along with speed in knots. I am used to miles. Or cables.
The Navy is a different world.

Why orders restricting the OOD from deviating only 1000 yards would be issued is strange. This must creat an disincentive to make a bold alteration early and readily apparenti. Instead accepting an apparently minimal CPA as tolerable.

The aproachingbship was seen but dismissed as passing astern by a distance I would refer to as less than acceptable condsiering both ships speed.
Turns out this passing distance was not monitored again until to late.
Confusion about lights aside.
Failure of the OOD to monitor traffic the ship was crossing was a critical failure. Which was not questioned, even as doubts arose.


“Three years later, the Fitzgerald would set sail with many of its computers and software out of date. For instance, its primary navigation system, known as the Voyage Management System, was running on Windows 2000 — the oldest version among ships based in Japan. Sailors would say that the navigation system would wrongly plot their position or the position of other ships.”

Windows 2000!?!?


But in sight of land so why not use the basics. If they were plotting positions using the land with a radar then they would have noticed whether it was working correctly or not.


One important aspect is the overall complexity of warships. At a rough guesstimate, a simple 100’ coast guard cutter has ten times as many systems on board as a 300’ tanker, and keeping those systems happily integrated bears little resemblance to “keeping the lights on and the shaft turning”. I can only guess how these things scale, but I imagine that since warships are crammed full of equipment, overall systems complexity should be roughly linear to LOA cubed, whereas your 1000’ tanker needs basically the same systems as a 300 footer, only bigger.

Furthermore, a lot of the systems on a warship are bespoke or stem from very short production runs. Need a new main board for a Decca BM2? You can have one pretty much anywhere in the world. Malfunctioning main board on your one-off missile tracking radar? Now you’d better understand the equipment down to the single component level, and have the time to chase down the fault instead of just swapping assemblies.

On top of all this, box boats and tankers are built and operated on a ten year renewal cycle, which is a major part of the reason why manning levels have gone down as far as they have. I’m not sure exactly how long our navies expect a new built destroyer to last, but it’s definitely not treated as disposable in the same manner. At the time of the accident, the USS Fitzgerald was over 20 years old, and this would be reflected in the amount of maintenance work.

Now add a twist of rigid organizational culture and a good dollop of train-hard-fight-easy doctrine, and we’re getting close to explaining the manpower discrepancies.

Anyhow, back to the article…


When shit goes down, even on commercial vessels it can result in similar situations. Twice with MLL we lost all power and went dead in the water (on two different vessels) and the engineers went well into the red on their rest hours, but it was corrected. Many times watches and cargo operations came so close to gear tests and it ended up with an officer on deck going well over their work/rest hours… heck, just last year I pulled a 22 hour day in Mumbai because of the perfect storm consisting of watch, inspectors and departure all lining right up.

They are trying to set up schedules that allow for more rest, which comes a little late as it seems the submarine and aviation communities have been doing this for a long, long time already. As stated in a previous post, sending a man aloft to work on billions of dollars worth of equipment after being awake and on the go for over a day without rest is just insane. He recounted the mast waving a little with the motions of the vessel and eating tons of stack exhaust on the way up and not even remembering doing the work he logged because of exhaustion. These divisions have more than enough people to do the work safely, and if certifications are an issue, they should have gold and blue crews like the submarines (if they don’t already) and use their “off” time while ashore/off patrol to get everyone up to speed.


A few years ago on USS PONCE (MSC/USN mixed crew) the bridge radars were using some crappy, old Windows version. I’d go to the bridge every now and then and there would be a Blue Screen of Death. So no radars. This was common enough that it was a running joke.


The way the Navy breaks down tasks in the bridge is a little different then the merchant side but the principle is the same.

As far as yards, 1000 yds ~1/2 mile.

My guess is that the captain expected that the ship was clear of traffic when he went below. I’ve had a couple captains that didn’t understand the pattern of the lines of traffic off Japan and expected once the traffic thinned out away from the port that the ship was in the clear.

I think there was CPA limits, evidently disregarded? I’ve seen that on the merchant side. "Call me but “wink wink” don’t call me for cpa under 2 miles…


I am assuming that the ships in the area were on the same time in which case the second officer would have had the watch on the Crystal Ace.
Like most masters approaching this area I would have been on the bridge for the 8 to 12 and dozed fully dressed for the other watches.
My own ship when I was last in these waters would have the AIS information displayed on the ECDIS and one of the two 3 cm radars. The 10cm radar being used for navigation and longer range monitoring of traffic.
The Fitzgerald would have appeared at about 10 miles on the 10cm radar without a AIS label and the ARPA giving a speed of 20 knots would mean that it could be deduced that it was no fishing boat.
I wonder if the Japanese investigation of the incident (if there was one) interviewed the OOW of the ship’s that were in the vicinity?


Yes, I miss read your post. Having experience in traffic is the key to seeing the patterns in the traffic you need to see to be able to handle it with little effort.


The Propublica version is difficult to finish, as my emotions prevent me from finishing. Emotions of rage & sorrow. Because I was a radarman on destroyers in the early Seventies, I have intimate (yes, and dated) knowledge of a CIC. I spent too many hours on a SPS-10 surface search radar & a SPA-25 PPI scope to understand how the operators on FITZ were incompetent in basic radar use.

We were all required to know how to tune the radar (the officers were not that good at tuning, but they knew when the picture sucked. And it was a performance factor for RD3 & RD2!! We also knew what pulse-width (short or long) to select for conditions. We knew what the range resolution and bearing resolution was for a give PW. That no-one on watch in FITZ CIC or the bridge knew the radar was set at long-range detection is unfathomable.

What isn’t mentioned in this reading, was the discovery of bottles of urine and weight-lifting equipment in CIC when the ship docked. (FROM NAVY TIMES, 14JAN19 - "Nothing captures the disarray aboard the destroyer better than this detail of a visit by Rear Adm. Brian Fort, who oversaw the investigation, to the vessel’s combat information center: “He saw kettlebells on the floor and bottles filled with pee”. Clearly a sign of poor leadership!!

The OOD, Ltjg Coppock committed the most grievous of errors: 1) She passed too close to two other vessels without calling the Captain in accordance with the night/standing orders. 2) She didn’t tell the Captain about an incident in May when she miscalculated distance to a fishing boat. 3) She didn’t pay attention to the SPS 73’s radar contact with a 3/4 mile CPA on the stern. 4) And didn’t sound the collision alarm, which undoubtedly would have saved those 7 sailor’s lives.

Yes, the captain is responsible. Yes the squadron commander is responsible. Yes COMSEVENFLT is responsible. But in the end, it’s the OOD who failed. She had a chance to stop the ship (assuming the article is correct that ABurkes can stop in 500’ to from 20kts).

I’m going to try and finish reading the article. But not now, I’m still fuming mad.

While I have strongly condemned the OOD, and the CO, and the admirals, I also congratulate and salute the crew who saved the vessel. They were true sailors & heroes.


Been There, Done That, from both sides of the angle.

-Navy… Too damn many tasks on the bridge in excess of seamanship. reports, 21 MC, endless reports of an admin nature… etc.

Put two Warrant Officers unconcerned about promotion up there with a pair of lookouts and shut the F-ck up. They will get you safely where you need to go.

Retired OSCS Radar Navigation Officer… Also Master of several MSC vessels and other types including an Antarctic Icebreaker. Get off my bridge!!! Too many folks, too many reports !!!

Qualified as pilot for Tokyo Wan and other ports… keep it quiet, keep it simple. Entered Tokyo without radar at night, yea a pucker factor but that is what our grandfathers did on every approach.

Keep it simple. See It… Stay away from It. !!!


Here is part two of the series.

YEARS OF WARNINGS, THEN DEATH AND DISASTER ProPublica. Part two of a series;


I’ve read the official documents related to this case. This is the first I’ve had opportunity to read individual experiences and a timeline reproduction. I do understand the issue much better than I did reading the cold investigative work. I believe one of the critical factors was there was no “eyes on” from the bridge both sides of the ship. Had there been eyes on from the critical location the collision may indeed have been avoided. In that respect, conclusions remain valid.


Congress is interested in this piece, and our own leadership is not.

“These two collisions were a tragedy, there is no doubt about it,” Davidson said. “And all the senior leaders of the Navy feel a tremendous amount of accountability for it. But the fact of the matter is 280-odd other ships weren’t having collisions.”

I’m about as Joe Navy as they come, but this “steady as she goes” shit is going to get more sailors killed. Anything you read about is window dressing. This is the real attitude of Big Navy.


Here is another view on the ProPublica articles

The Fitzgerald Collision: In Search of the Onus

Bryan McGrath

The problem with this narrative is that it is incomplete, and it removes from positions of obvious responsibility and culpability the very people most responsible for the accident — the commanding officer and other officers standing watch when the accident occurred. The American people should understand that while there were clear and present systemic issues with how the Navy trained and maintained its Japan-based ships, the Fitzgerald tragedy was the result of profound professional negligence perpetrated by people who either should have known better or did know better and chose to act otherwise.

I don’t agree with this at all, McGrath honestly believes people will be reluctant to hold the crew accountable? I don’t see that happening.

The way the Navy is set up now officers just have to advance in rank so that they no longer will be in command of an actual ship at sea. Once you advance above that you’re set for life. Until then you just have to never turn down a mission and keep your fingers crossed. Just need a little luck.

Two ships collided, 280, for every captain that fails 140 get promoted. Not bad odds.


That piece by Brian McGrath is pathetic. He’s saying that the blame lies with the ship and crew alone, that leadership ashore bares little responsibility for the accident. Let me explain the folly with an analogy:

It’s snowing. The roads are icy. A parent give the keys to a corvette to his unlicensed sixteen year old and tells her to drive her siblings to the store. Along the way she looses control of the muscle-car on a patch of black ice and gets into a terriable accident, killing her brothers and sisters.

Now, whose fault is it? Would we blame the sixteen year old driving a 300 hp car on icy roads? Or would we blame the parent for being stupid enough to put an unlicensed kid behind the wheel of a powerful car in an ice storm?

Legally it’s the kid’s fault. She was behind the wheel. Morally it’s the parents fault. An adult would know better. Should know better.

McGrath would be pleased to send the sixteen year old to jail for manslaughter while giving the negligent parent a pat on the back. McGrath is a disgusting apologist who should crawl back into the pocket of whatever lobbyist he crawled out from.


The way that I was used to was the ship was part of a flotilla where my own vessel was commanded by a commander. The lead vessel of the flotilla was commanded by a Captain. All the specialist officers in the lead ship were one rank higher than normal and they conducted periodic inspections of the other ships in the flotilla.
The Admiral was at sea in the flagship, normally the carrier, and wasn’t some want to be politician living in a grace and favour mansion with Filipino staff.
The management lost control over their oversight in a situation where by its very structure, did not allow those at the bottom to take any effective corrective action.


Dunning-Krueger effect, in summary.