American defense officials said Friday that initial findings indicate that the destroyer USS Fitzgerald was likely at fault in her collision with the container ship ACX Crystal on June 17.
Seven died and three were injured in the accident, and the Crystal’s bulbous bow tore a hole measuring 12 by 17 feet in Fitzgerald’s hull. Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin said that only the skillful damage control efforts of the Fitzgerald’s crew saved the ship from sinking.
The Navy, the Coast Guard, the Japan Coast Guard and the flag administration of the Philippines all have active investigations running into the circumstances of the collision. The Navy is pursuing two parallel inquiries – a fact-finding mission and a separate legal investigation aimed at determining responsibility for the accident.
Defense officials told CNN and Reuters that the early results of the investigation show that the Fitzgerald was at fault, and that a loss of situational awareness was a primary factor in the collision. “There was not a lot that went right leading up to the crash. There were a string of errors, but they did a lot after the collision to save lives and the ship,” an official with knowledge of the inquiry told Reuters. He added that the investigators have already collected radar data from the time of the incident and testimony from the crew, and that it was unlikely that the initial conclusions would change.
Two defense officials speaking with CNN confirmed this account. "They did nothing until the last second," one official said. "A slew of things went wrong." Another Navy official said the crash "will wind up being our fault."
The Navy would not confirm these anonymous statements. "We are in the early stages of the investigation process to develop a comprehensive picture of what caused the collision and do not have any definitive information to release at this time," said Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler, Navy chief of information, in a statement Friday. "It is premature to speculate on causation or any other issues."