Showing posts with label Collision. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Collision. Show all posts

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





Sunday, June 18, 2017

USS Fitzgerald - What Happened?

Earlier today I was asked several times if I could explain what happened to bring about the collision between USS Fitzgerald and a large container ship three times her size.

The truth is, I don't know. It should never have happened.

Neither should the sinking of the Titanic.

At 2:00 a.m. I imagine Commander Bryce Benson, who had taken command of Fitzgerald about a month earlier, had no idea that his ship was in peril. Sailors sleeping below decks on the starboard side forward had no idea that they were in peril.

The ship was operating only about 56 nautical miles from their home port of Yokosuka, Japan, an easy two hour steam. The sea was calm, the night was clear.

We don't yet know who had the conn. We don't know whether Captain Benson was on the bridge or in his sea cabin.

Some of these details won't come out until after the navy completes the investigation.

We only know that something went badly wrong.

Fitzgerald bristles with lethal weapons, with sensors probing the air, sea and ocean depths surrounding the ship. Everything moving in the ship's vicinity is detected, tracked and recorded by her many digital computers. Everything said over the interior telephone systems, every radar or sonar contact, every radio transmission or received signal is digitally recorded to be played back and analyzed.

I can speculate as to the cause, but even though I helped design the ship's equipment and have operated similar ships at sea very near the site of the collision, it would only be a guess.

Rather than engage in guesswork, I would rather remind us of what is certain - USS Fitzgerald is a mighty warship, whose crew willingly encounters the hazards of operating at sea. This is well expressed in the first verse of the Navy Hymn:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidd'st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
      For those in peril on the sea!

For the rest of it, I'll wait for the investigation report.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Catastrophe At Sea: USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62)

About 0230 the morning of June 16, 2017, USS Fitzgerald, a 20 year old guided missile destroyer of the Arleigh Burke class, operating near the volcanic island of O Shima, about fifty miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship on the way from the port of Nagoya, to the port of Tokyo  in a calm sea on a clear night.

Damage to Fitzgerald was extensive both topside and below decks, she took on a lot of water, a number of sailors were injured, and seven sailors are missing. Two crew members were evacuated by helicopter to a hospital ashore, including CDR Bryce Benson, her commanding officer, who took command last month. The ship's executive officer has assumed command.

There is no information as to what caused the collision, but one report indicates that the Philipine vessel reversed course in a u-turn about 25 minutes before the collision. Fitzgerald has returned to her base at Yokosuka under her own power, flooding is under control, and the ship is in no danger of sinking. Commander Seventh Fleet has promised updates as soon as more information is available.

USS Fitzgerald is one of fifteen guided missile destroyers and three guided missile cruisers designated as anti-ballistic missile ships.

Admiral Arleigh Burke was the most distinguished destroyer squadron commander of World War II, who went on to become Chief of Naval Operations. He brought about many improvements in the capabilities of the navy and was an inspiration to my generation of officers.

I had the great pleasure of meeting him and working with him at annual Naval Academy foreign affairs symposiums. A great man.

I also had the honor to work on the design of USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) at RCA after I retired from the navy.

Very sad to learn of USS Fitzgerald's collision.

The sea is a demanding task master.