Destroyer Commanders Face Criminal Charges Over Collisions


By The Maritime Executive 2018-01-16 04:58:55

The commanders of the destroyers USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald will face military criminal charges including negligent homicide for their roles in last year's deadly collisions, the U.S. Navy announced Tuesday. 

Former Fitzgerald commander Cmdr. Bryce Benson and former McCain commander Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez are expected to be charged with hazarding a vessel, dereliction of duty and negligent homicide, according to the Navy. The two men were relieved of their commands shortly after the collisions involving each vessel last year, and they will now face an Article 32 Uniform Code of Military Justice hearing. 

In addition, the Navy announced Tuesday that two Lieutenants and one Lieutenant Junior Grade from the Fitzgerald would face these charges as well. A Fitzgerald Chief Petty Officer also faces charges of dereliction of duty, and administrative actions are being conducted for members of both crews, including non-judicial punishment for four Fitzgerald and four John S. McCain crewmembers.

The announcement follows shortly after the conclusion of an administrative investigation headed by the Director of Naval Reactors, Adm. James F. Caldwell, who was appointed to lead an independent inquiry in the wake of the collisions. Caldwell is said to have presented his findings and recommendations to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson over the weekend. It also comes shortly ahead of a hearing of the House Armed Services seapower subcommittee, which is scheduled for Thursday and will feature testimony from Richardson and from Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. 

Head of Surface Forces accelerates departure

In September, following the two collisions, U.S. naval surface forces chief Vice Adm. Tom Rowden agreed to leave his post early. He was set to retire on February 2, 2018.

However, after Adm. Caldwell's report this past weekend, Rowden is reported to be accelerating his planned departure and will leave his post before his retirement ceremony. His sooner-than-expected resignation is said to be directly related to Adm. Caldwell's recommendations, which may include disciplinary measures for Rowden. 

In addition to Rowden, Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift; 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin; Task Force 70 commander Rear Adm. Charles Williams; and Destroyer Squadron 15 commander Capt. Jeffrey Bennett have voluntarily departed or have been removed from their posts in the aftermath of the deadly accidents.

Rear Adm. Richard Brown, commander of Navy Personnel Command, is set to take up Rowden's position shortly. Brown has served as commander of USS The Sullivans, USS Gettysburg and Carrier Strike Group 11. He has also served as commanding officer of the Surface Warfare Officers School Command and commander of Naval Service Training Command - two posts that would appear to position him well for addressing the training deficiencies identified in the Navy's post-collision review.