SECNAV to Issue Letters of Censure to USS Fitzgerald Officers

damage to USS Fitzgerald
damage to USS Fitzgerald

By The Maritime Executive 04-11-2019 12:12:23

At the recommendation of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Richard V. Spencer will issue a Secretarial Letter of Censure to USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) former commanding officer Cmdr. Bryce Benson and former crew member Lt. Natalie Combs.

Both officers were previously dismissed from their jobs and received non-judicial punishment. 

Richardson will now withdraw and dismiss charges in the general courts-martial against the two officers.

In the early hours of June 17, 2017, the USS Fitzgerald's bridge team was transiting southwards in heavy traffic on the approaches to Tokyo. Due to a series of human errors, she collided with the merchant vessel ACX Crystal, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to the destroyer and killing seven sailors. 

According to the U.S. Navy's public report, USS Fitzgerald's bridge team did not did not maintain a proper lookout in the hours prior to the collision, nor did they broadcast AIS, properly tune their radar or follow VTS lanes. They also failed to communicate effectively with other vessels or with their own ship's Combat Information Center, even in extremis, and they did not sound the general alarm until after the collision.

“This decision is in the best interest of the Navy, the families of the Fitzgerald Sailors, and the procedural rights of the accused officers,” said the U.S. Navy in a statement. 

“The comprehensive program to improve Navy readiness and training, to do everything possible to ensure that accidents like this will not recur, remains on track. The Navy continues to strive to achieve and maintain a climate of operational excellence.”