Sunday, July 23, 2017

Navy At Fault in Fitzgerald Collision

According to YAHOO News, preliminary investigation shows the Navy is at fault in the collision of USS Fitzgerald with a Philippine Container Ship.

Here is one published report:

"What caused the bizarre June 17 collision between a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer and a Philippines cargo ship that killed seven U.S. sailors off the coast of Japan?
It looks like some answers may finally be forthcoming.
An initial investigation has found that the USS Fitzgerald’s crew did not respond adequately to signals, did not understand that the other ship was drawing near, and may have failed even to summon the commanding officer, according to CNN.
“They did nothing until the last second,” said one defense official.
“There were many people who should have spoken up,” another official told Fox News.
The far larger cargo ship hit the Fitzgerald on its starboard side at 1:30 am after veering sharply in a failed attempt to avoid it, gouging out a deep gash that left the Navy destroyer listing to one side. After the deadly collision, the Fitzgerald was towed to the U.S. naval base at Yokosuka. Three Navy sailors, including the commanding officer, were evacuated to medical facilities in Japan. Divers salvaged the bodies of seven American sailors.
It was the deadliest U.S. naval event since the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
Multiple investigations have been launched to figure out how a radar-equipped, sophisticated vessel like the Fitzgerald was apparently unable to avoid a much larger ship.
International navigation guidelines state that “the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way.”
A Navy spokeswoman warned that no conclusions should yet be drawn from the initial probe.
“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,” Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler, U.S. Navy Chief of Information, said in a statement.
“It is premature to speculate on causation or any other issues,” said Cutler. “Once we have a detailed understanding of the facts and circumstances, we will share those findings with the Fitzgerald families, our Congressional oversight committees and the general public.”
This is not a surprise.
I still want to know exactly how it came about. I now have enough information from this news report to make a guess. 
My guess is that the Officer of The Deck that night may not have been looking out the window. He should have been. USS Fitzgerald was equipped with the latest, most automated radar, the AN/SPY-1D radar. It should have automatically established radar tracks for ships and aircraft in the ship's vicinity. But the scale of the display may not have been right for nearby surface ships. 
In any event, no matter how automated the ship's sensors may be, the Mark I Mod 0 eyeball (otherwise known as seaman's eye) is still necessary for safe operation of ships at sea.
That's why I want to know more about what happened that night.
In any event, one thing is certain: one person is responsible for the safe operation of the ship - the Captain. Others may also be responsible, but there is no doubt about the Captain.




Sunday, July 16, 2017

More News About USS Fitzgerald Collision

Last week the navy moved the damaged destroyer USS Fitzgerald into dry dock 4 at the Naval base at Yokosuka, Japan, in order to more carefully inspect the damage from the ship's collision with a container ship. The main question is whether the ship can make it back to a shipyard in the states or whether she must be towed or otherwise transported.

So far, it looks like the damage is more extensive than originally thought. The hull was twisted in the collision, much like you twist a wet rag to get the water out. Torsional damage of that kind can make repairs more difficult.

A good CNN article spells out how the navy will investigate and what the probable consequences will be. In a word - there will be responsibility and accountability. This is the way government should work. http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/17/opinions/uss-fitzgerald-this-much-we-know-kirby/index.html

And here's another article worth reading: http://conservativewahoo.blogspot.com/2008/07/accountability-navy-style.html

I have long believed the world could be improved by being more like the navy. At least in the matter of people in responsible positions taking responsibility.

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Collision (Or Grounding) At Sea Can Ruin Your Whole Day

Last month, after the USS Fitzgerald collision with a container ship and resulting loss of life, US Navy spokesmen pointed out that such collisions are extremely rare.

I promised to explain the collision based on my own knowledge and experience, but only after the Navy investigation completes its work. Until then, any analysis would be just guesswork.

I am rethinking those assurances. I still think it best to wait until the investigation is over, but it has occurred to me that we can learn a lot from some of the prior rare examples from the 20th century. I know a bit about some of these earlier incidents.

Here are some cases:

NH 66721 Honda Point.gif

September 8, 1923 Honda Point, California

The fourteen ships of destroyer squadron 11 were steaming from San Francisco to San Diego simulating wartime operations. All fourteen ships were Clemson class destroyers less than five years old. The squadron was commanded by Captain Edward Howe Watson, an 1895 graduate of the US Naval Academy, embarked in the flagship USS Delphy. 

The flagship was responsible for navigation, the other ships of the squadron followed in Delphy's wake in a column formation at a speed of twenty knots. The flagship was fitted with a new electronic navigation device, a radio direction finder (RDF), which detected a signal from Point Arguello at the entrance to the Santa Barbara Channel. The ship's officers had no experience with RDF and distrusted its bearings.

As a result, the ship was navigating by "dead reckoning," - calculating the ship's progress along its track using rpm to estimate speed. A week earlier, Japan was hit with the Great Kanto earthquake, which devastated Tokyo and generated unusual swells and currents all across the Pacific. These swells and currents may have retarded the squadron's progress down the coast.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m., in dark and foggy weather, the navigator calculated it was time to turn to enter the Santa Barbara Channel. Delphy was actually several miles northeast of the calculated position and ran aground on the rocky shore at 20 knots. The following ships attempted to turn away, some turning to port and others turning to starboard, but seven destroyers were lost. This was the largest peacetime loss of US Navy ships. 

Captain Watson accepted full responsibility and argued against any court-martial of other officers.


1950 USS Missouri Grounding, Chesapeake Bay

On January 17, 1950, USS Missouri (BB063), the last of the Iowa class battleships to be commissioned, ran hard aground in Chesapeake Bay near Thimble Shoals light in plain view of senior Army and Navy officers quartered near Old Point Comfort. The ship ran aground during an unusually high tide, making salvage difficult. She was refloated 1 February and towed back into drydock for repairs. The incident greatly amused the press, because of President Truman's personal interest in the ship, and greatly amused Army and Air Force officers because of Navy discomfort.

The ship's commanding officer, Captain William D. Brown, had taken command on December 10th as the ship's three month period of repairs was drawing to a close. Brown, a veteran of thirty years of naval service, had a distinguished career commanding submarines and destroyers, but had never commanded such a large ship.

The investigation uncovered a number of shortcomings in shipboard organization as stipulated in U.S. Navy Regulations. The principal organizational shortcoming was the subordinate position of the ship's navigator, who lacked direct access to the ship's captain.

After the Missouri grounding, Navy Regulations were changed to stipulate that the ship's navigator, no matter how junior, would be designated as a department head.

On a personal note, in 1955 I went aboard my first naval ship on a training cruise out of Norfolk. The ship was USS Iowa (BB-61), a sister ship of Missouri.

Another personal note: when I was about to be commissioned, I was asked what job I wanted. I indicated I wanted to be navigator. In 1958, I became navigator and department head at the age of 21. After that time, I was always at least a department head at sea.

More To Come





Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Amelia Earhart Update

In May 1937, a month after I was born, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, took off in Amelia's Lockheed Electra, headed Eastward on a projected circumnavigation. On June 28, after flying over Africa,Southeast Asia and Western New Guinea, they crossed the towering Owen Stanley mountan range of Papua New Guinea, landing at the airfield at Lae, on the north coast. They spent the next four days preparing for the most critical phase of the Pacific crossing, the flight from Lae to a refueling stop on Howland Island. She took off from Lae July 2 1937 and was last heard from July 3. She never reached Howland and no trace of her flight was discovered, despite a vast air/sea search.

From the outset of the disappearance, events stimulated speculation that Japan was somehow involved. It was already clear that Japan was readying her Trust Territories in the Pacific to be used as bases in a planned war with the United States.

Five months later, in December, 1937, Japanese army aircraft involved in military operations in Nanking attacked and sank the USS Panay, a Yangtze River gunboat, with loss of American lives. Japan apologized and paid an indemnity, which the US accepted. Nevertheless, it appeared to be a deliberate attack.

Meanwhile, back to Lae.

Recently a photograph discovered in the classified section of the National Archives seems to show Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan at Jaluit Island and Earhart's airplane on a barge being towed by a Japanese ship. The ship's name is the same as the ship reported by natives to have salvaged the Earhart aircraft. Native reports also claimed that Earhart was imprisoned on Saipan and later executed. These details have not been verified.

The Japanese Army in 1937 may already have been planning an invasion of the North Coast of New Guinea to establish bases from which to march over the Owen Stanley Range and capture Port Moresby. This would allow them to attack Northern Australia by air.

Five years later, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, on March 8, 1942, Japanese marines waded ashore at Lae and the nearby village of Salamaua. A joint naval task force of Australian and US vessels raced to counter the Japanese invasion. The force included US aircraft carriers Lexington and Yorktown, who launched 52 aircraft from each carrier at dawn March 10. The aircraft flew over the mountain range and caught Japanese ships by surprise as they were unloading.

The final score was four transport ships sunk, one cruiser out of action, requiring repairs in Japan, two Japanese destroyers out of action. The US carriers lost only one aircraft.

So Lae, the airfield that Earhart left from on her next leg, proved important to Japanese plans.