Repaired USS Fitzgerald leaves dry dock following container ship collision

The repaired guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald sits moored at Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi

US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald has finally left dry dock after almost two years of its collision with a container ship, which resulted in seven crew fatalities.

The Philippine-flagged container ship ACX Crystal crashed into USS Fitzgerald in waters about 148 km southwest of Tokyo, Japan. The bow of the container ship pierced a hole in the amidships of the starboard side of the destroyer below the water line causing water to flood into the ship and cause significant damage to electrical systems.

The bodies of the seven deceased crew members were recovered from the flooded berthing compartments of the ship. At least three more of the 300-strong crew were injured, including the ship’s commanding officer, commander Bryce Benson.

Following the accident, USS Fitzgerald sailed to the Japanese shore and was towed to Ingalls Shipbuilding yard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, arriving in January 2018. In the past year, the ship has undergone extensive repairs which, in the majority, have focused on the hull and topside structures damaged in the collision. The US Navy says that repair work will continue while the ship is moored pier side and full repairs are expected to be completed by January 2020.

According to the official statement released by the NAVSEA Office of Corporate Communications, repairs range from partial to complete refurbishment of impacted spaces to replacement of equipment such as the radar and electronic warfare suite.

To restore the impacted spaces to full operations and functionality, various hull, mechanical, and electrical (HM&E), combat system (CS), and command, control, communications, computers, cyber, and intelligence (C5I) repairs have been conducted. The ship is also receiving HM&E, combat system, and C5I modernisation upgrades.

USS Fitzgerald commanding officer Cmdr Garrett Miller said that he was proud of the crew’s hard work over the past year and that he looks forward to returning to the fleet with enhanced warfighting capability.

NAVSEA has not provided a cost of the repairs, but an estimate obtained from the US Navy by USNI News in late 2017 totalled about USD327 million.

According to information obtained by The Navy Times, the owners of ACX Crystal, Olympic Steamship Company, have agreed to pay the US government nearly USD27 million as part of a settlement agreement.

On 11 April the US Navy dropped a charge of negligent homicide and other offences against the captain of USS Fitzgerald, Cmdr Benson. Charges were also dropped against lieutenant Natalie Combs, the officer in charge of the Command Information Centre and responsible for advising the bridge on collision avoidance.

Both Cmdr Benson and Lt Combs received letters of censure, with the common feature that their ineffective leadership and poor judgement or communication were causal factors in the collision. Letters of censure acknowledge acts of wrongdoing but have no legal ramifications.

Two months later USS Fitzgerald crash into another US Navy destroyer, USS John S McCain, collided with a merchant vessel near the Singapore strait, resulting in 10 fatalities. Since then, US Navy investigations have revealed a pattern of underlying problems.