Worse than you thought: inside the secret Fitzgerald probe the Navy doesn’t want you to read

A scathing internal Navy probe into the 2017 collision that drowned seven sailors on the guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald details a far longer list of problems plaguing the vessel, its crew and superior commands than the service has publicly admitted.

Obtained by Navy Times, the “dual-purpose investigation” was overseen by Rear Adm. Brian Fort and submitted 41 days after the June 17, 2017, tragedy.

It was kept secret from the public in part because it was designed to prep the Navy for potential lawsuits in the aftermath of the accident.
Worse than you thought: inside the secret Fitzgerald probe

I hope they’re doing similar audits on other ships. I find it hard to believe the conditions of the CIC were as Fort reported. Disturbing to say the least.

The part where the CIC was full of trash, bottles of piss and workout gear confirmed some of my worst fears about the state of things on that ship…

(from my post in ACX paying USN 27 million) It applies on this thread.

I’ve always wondered about the “danger signal”. Given the size of vessels, given the “bridge bubble” that we work in, and in this case, given the speed of the Grey-hull at 20kts, realistically what effect does the danger signal have??? The A/B if he’s outside can’t hear it due to the sound of exhaust blowers at a range a ship could maneuver, so if you do hear it, it’s too late to do anything about it. . . and the MOW is inside, insulated from the noise.

And in the case of the DDG, - - - Pee bottles, kettlebells in CIC??? I am beyond speechless. Certainly not the destroyers I was on in '71 & 72. I guess the admirals and other powerbroker are more interested in a “kinder/gentler” NAVY, and the reduction of “toxic masculinity”, instead of SEAMANSHIP/LEADERSHIP/WARFIGHTING!

I read with great displeasure that the Operation Specialists, formerly known as RADARMEN of which I was one on destroyers in 1971-75, could not tune the radar, or adjust it for proper display. And that the condition was tolerated by the CPO’s and both the Division Officer (a commissioned officer) & a Department Head (also an officer). On GURKE (DD-783), the radarmen also knew the rules of the road.

From another forum, an author opined:
“The big buzzword for the Armed Forces in the last 10 years has been diversity and inclusion. Every dollar spent in that arena and every hour of training for D&I has been at the expense of developing the proper competency of Ship operators.” “D & I doesn’t work, because you end up with the wrong person in the wrong place for the wrong reasons”, wrote another writer.

Without a doubt, the priorities have changed, and changed for the worse. When the commander of a submarine is relieved of command for hiring 10 local girls in the Philippines for a night on the town, (he was “turned in” by one sailor from his sub - no doubt a malcontent snowflake who was jealous that he couldn’t afford 10 - who, by the way was also hiring two local girls and just not prosecuted by NCIS), then the Navy has the wrong priorities. When I was in, that kind of liberty activity although not necessarily condoned, was not a criminal or career ending event.


Large piston horns can be audible at several nautical miles. Even at a closing speed of 30 knots, you have 2 minutes to do something constructive if you become aware of the danger at only 1 NM range.

Lots of ships today have totally enclosed bridge, incl. the wings. Don’t know if it is compulsory but many such ships have external mikes and loudspeakers in the wheelhouse to be able to detect sound signals.

From a COLREGS point of view, it’s the Crystal for the most part that has a legal problem with a failure to sound the danger signal, IIRC the Fitzgerald did have a lookout outside.

From a practical standpoint who’s to say that a report to the bridge team from the lookout wouldn’t have been enough to change the outcome?

Did the Crystal have anytime to sound danger signal? This is assuming that the mate was even aware. As a Pilot sometime things happen to fast and you are reacting to the issue first. In some cases you have to warn the forecastle first or the Captain will get pissed off when you blow the whistle.

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Two related but different subjects, practical during the event and legal after.

In practical terms I’d be surprised if the mate on watch of the Crystal in a collision situation would have the cognitive bandwidth to sound a signal. The reason they went for the ALDIS is that’s likely a more ingrained behavior from repetition, having used it often in previous situations.

It still might be a legal problem, I don’t know how courts assign responsibility for a collision but it seems likely that the failure to sound would be a problem.

On the other hand maybe not, maybe the judge looks at it and decides, say 80/20 fault then uses the COLREGS to justify the numbers.

The collision happened in Japanese waters. The Crystal is registered in the Philippines but owned and operated by a Japanese company. The Fitz is a US warship stationed in Japan.
All indications are thus that the case belong in a Japanese Court, but is that a given??

Also to pull in the comments from “ombugge”, “Kennebec_Captain”, and “Pilot”. . .

Given a hypothetical 30kt closure, sure, at a range of 1nm there are two minutes before impact. But add in the time AFTER recognizing the problem to achieve a reasonable solution.

Think in terms of the “pilot-in-command” of US Air “Miracle on the Hudson”; after both engines flamed out, the pilot had to figure out what to do. And if you remember in the movie, after 30 seconds to figure out what to do, the aircraft was unable to land at any airport.

Now apply that back to your hypothetical example. Now there is only 1.5 minutes to get the helm over & have the ship respond. And yes, for the “lawyers”, sound the danger signal. . . for whatever good it will do at this point. And my recollection of the Fitz’s speed; it was 20kts. So I suspect the 30kt closure speed was closer to 35kts - meaning less time & less distance to correct a problem.

When I was on the bridge, with the doors closed, I’d never be able to hear a ship’s whistle over the sound of the Air Conditioner, the 2 VHF’s with constant chatter, and the sound of multiple cooling fans for various bridge equipment. . .

For Kennebec_Cap’n: My recollection is that the starboard lookout was on the port bridge wing. That’s why CRYSTAL was not seen in sufficient time.

The discussion is with regards to a sound signal. Regardless of practical considerations the COLREGS make a perfect loop, they require a sound signal AND they require “a proper look-out by sight and hearing”.

Also I believe that the Crystal was seen in time. Some steps required between seeing a ship and taking the correct action, one being understanding the situation.

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If nothing else, to be recorded on the VDR that you at least sounded it.


The path is:

  1. Watch officer on Crystal sounds danger signal
  2. Lookout on Fitzgerald hears danger signal (lookout is outside, on the wing)
  3. Lookout on Fitzgerald reports to watch officer on Fitzgerald that danger signal has been heard.

In this case the fact the the watch officer on the Crystal can not hear whistle signals is irrelevant.

I don’t think anyone was suggesting that MOW on Crystal not hearing whistle signals caused this collision.

The DDG caused the collision; going too fast; lousy officers; lousy CIC; lousy lookouts; & not calling the captain IAW the captain’s standing/night orders. Crystal failed to contact the DDG on VHF and take steps to avoid a collision when it was obvious the DDG wasn’t.

After 23 years of bridge watches, including more years as master than I’d prefer to remember - not including my NAVY time - it isn’t rocket science to avoid a collision!!
But I ask the question about the danger signal because, as ombugge succinctly mentioned, the enclosed wheelhouse/bridge doesn’t allow for very good acoustic lookouting.

Sure, sounding the danger signal keeps the court/lawyers happy, but I don’t see it functionally working in the middle of the ocean. Action to avoid collision should have been taken long before 5 short is sounded. And for the actively sailing deep sea masters out there, how many of you are sounding sound signals when changing course, IAW rule 34(A) in the middle of the ocean to avoid collisions?

Sorry to be so GD’d obstinate about this. Really. I’m glad I’m enjoying retirement & “out of the game”.

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I agree about the danger signal. I always told someone else to do it and picked a time when I wasn’t trying to communicate with anyone. If the whistle is on the bow, forget about dropping the anchor until they get their hearing back. If it’s on the mast above the bridge you can forget about anyone being able to talk until it’s over. I treated it as a CYA thing. Doesn’t really do anything but all the inexperienced investigators know to ask that question to look informed. The only benefit I could ever see was in a busy harbor everyone would hear it and pay attention. If anyone reading this wants to, look at the video of the Bright Field hitting the dock in New Orleans 20 years ago (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNiGk__i0U0). At 3:47 of the video the pilot says he repeatedly asked the captain to drop the anchors, but that never happened. I always wondered about that until I saw a different video (which I couldn’t find). In that video the whistle was being sounded continuously over and over - not just the 5 short. The foredeck crew couldn’t hear a thing.

Ok, so the watch officer sees his ship is going to have a close quarters situation and possible collision with another ship and that ship is not taking action.

Here are the reasons he should not sound the danger signal:

The other watch officer is inside and won’t hear. (lookout on the other ship was outside)
The watch on the bow won’t hear the command to drop anchor (ship at sea, N/A)
It’s just done for legal reasons.

None of those reasons are a sure thing. A collision at sea is a high consequence event. If sounding the danger signal can be done without interfering with other actions it should be done no matter how low the probability it will improve the situation.

If sounding the danger signal has almost no cost and has a possibility, no matter how small, of avoiding a collision why not sound it?


Radio is a better option than blowing a whistle. Hitting them briefly with a searchlight is a better option. Turning on your deck lights so they can see you plainly is a better option. Acting early and using common sense is the best option of all. Waiting until extremis to do something is a sea-lawyer move. The whistle is 19th century stuff. I’m not saying don’t do it, just make sure it doesn’t get in the way of everything else you’re trying to do that actually might avoid a collision. I don’t know of any case where someone heard the danger signal, snapped to attention and heroically took last minute action to prevent a collision. Do you?

On the tanker I used to work on, it took several minutes for the deck lights to kick on, as they warmed up there was just a faint glow, not to mention the switches to turn them on weren’t on the bridge, but down in the cargo control room.

On the OSVs I work on now, yeah, I can turn them on from the bridge, but they still take 5 minutes to get bright enough to notice.

The argument is that a sound signal from Crystal would not have been heard on Fitzgerald because the watch officer was inside.

I don’t think that argument is valid because the lookout on the Fitzgerald was outside.