Negligent Homicide Charges Possible in Two Navy Collisions

One ship collided June 17, 2017, with a merchant vessel about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, and the other was involved in an Aug. 21, 2017, collision with a merchant vessel east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore.

The U.S. Navy announced that the commanding officers of two ships involved in 2017 collisions at sea, as well as two lieutenants and a lieutenant junior grade on one of the ships and a chief petty officer on the other, may face charges in connection with the incidents. A statement released Jan. 16 by U.S. Navy Chief of Information (Acting) Capt. Greg Hicks concerned the latest development following the June 17, 2017, collision of the USS Fitzgerald with a merchant vessel about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan, and the Aug. 21, 2017, collision of the USS John S. McCain with a merchant vessel east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore: "On 30 October 2017, Admiral William Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, designated Admiral Frank Caldwell as the Consolidated Disposition Authority to review the accountability actions taken to date in relation to USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) collisions and to take additional administrative or disciplinary actions as appropriate. After careful deliberation, today Admiral Frank Caldwell announced that Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) charges are being preferred against individual service members in relation to the collisions."

The statement says courts-martial proceedings/Article 32 hearings are being convened to review evidence supporting possible criminal charges against Fitzgerald members -- the commanding officer, two lieutenants, and one lieutenant junior grade. The charges include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide.

One court-martial proceeding/Article 32 hearing is being convened to review evidence supporting possible criminal charges against the commanding officer of the USS John S. McCain, and the charges include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide. One charge of dereliction of duty was preferred and is pending referral to a forum for a chief petty officer.

The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses, the announcement says, adding that additional administrative actions are being conducted for members of both crews, including non-judicial punishment for four Fitzgerald and four John S. McCain crew members.

On Nov. 1, 2017, the Navy released a report detailing the events and actions that led to the two collisions. "Both of these accidents were preventable, and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said. "We must do better. We are a Navy that learns from mistakes, and the Navy is firmly committed to doing everything possible to prevent an accident like this from happening again. We must never allow an accident like this to take the lives of such magnificent young sailors and inflict such painful grief on their families and the nation."

"The vast majority of our sailors are conducting their missions effectively and professionally -- protecting America from attack, promoting our interests and prosperity, and advocating for the rules that govern the vast commons from the sea floor to space and in cyberspace. This is what America expects and deserves from its Navy," he added. "Our culture, from the most junior sailor to the most senior commander, must value achieving and maintaining high operational and warfighting standards of performance and these standards must be embedded in our equipment, individuals, teams, and fleets. We will spend every effort needed to correct these problems and be stronger than before."

The report found that the collision involving Fitzgerald resulted from an accumulation of smaller errors over time, the the John S. McCain collision also was avoidable and resulted primarily from complacency, over-confidence, and lack of procedural compliance.

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