USS Fitzgerald collides with ACX Crystal off coast of Japan

NHK has video showing the damage to the Fitzgerald.

Larter reports:

The damage to Fitzgerald is serious and the crew has been fighting to save the ship, three sources indicated. Two crew berthings and one engineering main space have been flooded. The CO has been seriously injured and the Executive Officer has taken command of the ship, sources said.

edit: Added press release link from

struck on its starboard side I see

now where have we seen this before?


What we know:

  • Two ships, both heading towards Tokyo Bay collide on a clear night with good visibility.
  • From the AIS we know that the ACX Crystal was steaming at 18.5 kts on a heading of 068 degr.
  • Exact speed and heading of the USS Fitzgerald is not known. (AIS switched off??)
    (It may be assumed that they were at near same but converging courses)
  • The USS Fitzgerald is struck near midships on her Stbd. side.
  • The Container ship ACX Crystal sustained damages on her Port bow.

What we not yet know:

  • Who were the overtaking vessel in accordance with the COLREGS?

It seams to me that when that last question is answered we know who’s to blame.
Why this happened will take some more investigation, and openness from both parties.

PS> If the above MarineTraffic plot represent the course and speed of the USS Fitzgerald we may have the answer of who to blame, but not why a fast and maneuverable warship could not avoid collision with a large container ship on an apparent converging course, even if they had the right of way.

the likelihood is that this was a near overtaking situation where the ACX CRYSTAL was approaching the FITZGERALD from the latter’s starboard quarter at a relative angle of approach just ahead of 135deg. too many noobs think a passing situation only involves approach of another vessel from ahead of the beam but they also include any vessel approaching from 090 to 135. this fits the fact that the damage is to the FITZGERALD’s starboard side and the CRYSTAL’s port.

was no one looking astern or did they expect the CRYSTAL to pass astern of the FITZGERALD?

I have read that the FITZGERALD does not have an AIS trace (maybe US warships don’t have AIS equipment or never use them in foreign waters?)

I read somewhere that USN ships do not broadcast AIS data, or at least they rarely do so. They definitely have the ability to receive AIS though (see page 147).

I’ve been told they have pretty advanced AIS units that include a bunch of special features like the ability to transmit fake targets.

They also have the ability to transmit a normal signal but that’s at the discretion of the captain and is often left off because AIS signals can now be tracked by potential enemies via satellite.

We will not know if it was an overtaking situation or crossing situation until the VDR data from the container ship is examined. Both vessels are at fault, there’s no way you can be traveling at a safe speed according to the regulations and have a collision simply by the wording of the Nav. Rules that define safe speed. Now one vessel may have more ‘blame’ than the other. There’s an indication of a hard starboard turn by the container vessel in one news report and I’m sure that a VDR will be able to capture the point in time compared to the collision that the turn was ordered as well as the vessel response to the command. The damage in the pictures could be from the container ship colliding during an overtaking situation (with it being the give way vessel), or from it striking the warship that was attempting to cross it’s bow (with it being the stand on vessel). It could be some other situation as well.

AIS is a great tool, but AIS or no AIS whatever organization does the investigation will be able to get a fairly clear picture of what transpired if there’s a half-way decent voyage data recorder on the container ship.

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I tead that report too and it came from the AIS data which clearly shows that at 16:30 UTC the Containership altered course to starboard. What is not clear is the exact time of the collision. Untill that is known it’s impossible to tell if the change in course was done in attempt to avoid collision or if the containership took no action and the course change was a result of the collision.

So, you’re correct, the VDR will give us the answer.

That said… the US Navy has realtime monitoring systems that are much more advanced than VDR… so I am 99.9% confident they already know the answer.

If the White House was investigating this we would already have the leaked recording with transcripts.


If the plot Fragrat posted is giving the position, speed and track of ACX Crystal 5 min. after the more detailed track shown in gCaptian’s report:
then it appears that the ACX Crystal was trying to avoid collision by turning to Stbd. and reducing speed. (The last may be because of the turning)

Bearing in mind that both vessels were heading for the same destination in a heavily trafficked shipping lane, it may be logical to assume that their initial courses were not too different, unless the USS Fitzgerald was “doing her own thing”, not following the normal shipping lane.

From the position of damages to both vessels I agree that it appears that the relative angle between the two vessels at time of impact could have been somewhere close to 135 degr. as seen from USS Fitzgerald.

But since we have no way of knowing the original heading, or evasive action taken by USS Fitzgerald, if any, we can only speculate on “who’s to blame” in normal COLREG terms.

Do we know where the Fitzgerald originated from? Could they have been crossing the shipping lane and also been turning to avoid collision at time of impact?

Ability to, but standard practice is not too, especially outside US waters.

Standard practice of USN warships is not to listen to AIS transmissions? I don’t believe that, and that doesn’t agree with what I read on p 147 of this document I posted earlier. Here is the relevant section:

The Navy AIS program collects open-source AIS data that is being broadcast from AIS transceivers on commercial vessels. This open-source AIS data, combined with other government intelligence and surveillance data, is used by Navy ships and submarines to improve safety of navigation and is integrated into the common operational picture (COP) to enhance situational awareness. The AIS data collected by Navy platforms is also aggregated within the MDA/AIS Sensor/Server (MASS) capability at several operational shore sites. The MASS then provides the data to unclassified and classified users in support of MDA efforts, with particular focus on improving the Nation’s maritime security

I hope I’ve misunderstood your meaning there. I do understand why the USN don’t normally transmit their AIS position/heading/speed data; I question the wisdom of that policy, but I understand it.

Sorry for the confusion, you are correct. Standard practice is not to TRANSMIT, but definitely listen. Occasionally they may transmit in high traffic however.

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Out of curiosity I did a quick search and it looks like you can even make a home-built AIS receiver with a cheap rtl-sdr unit.

It appears to me that the container ship was manuvering pretty erratic just prior to the collision. It reversed course twice and made some hard turns which might indicate a steering malfunction.

I hope I am wrong, but if they have not found those guys by now, it does not look good!

I fear they may find some of them once they can get the ship into drydock.