TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -Multiple Navy reviews show human error caused two naval ship collisions that killed 17 sailors this year. The incidents could have been avoided with improved training and managing sailors’ fatigue while stationed overseas, the Navy finds.
US Navy leaders have called for around 60 improvements across its Pacific fleet in the wake of the recent collisions. Admiral John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, ordered a review of the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S McCain collisions, which is set to be released in a report Thursday.
The USS McCain collided with a merchant vessel on August 21 near Singapore, killing 10 sailors and injuring five. The USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship near Yokosuka in June, killing seven sailors. Command staff of both ships were relieved of their posts after the incidents.
The review of the incidents was led by Admiral Philip Davidson, head of the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, who called for appointing a senior Navy officer to oversee the implementation of the recommended changes across the global Navy fleet, according to an advanced copy obtained by the Associated Press.
In his review, Davidson called for increasing the standards for sailors standing watch and better training on high-tech equipment. The report states that increasing demands have led to fewer crew members completing necessary training or certifications.
“We have allowed our standards of the numbers of certifications...to drop as the number of certification waivers have grown,” Admiral William Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, told the House Armed Services Committee during a hearing last month. “While not against the rules, they are below the standard that we should accept.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in September found that the Navy has reduced training and maintenance periods for ships homeported overseas in order to maximize their operational availability.
“Since the ships are in permanent deployment status during their time homeported overseas, they do not have designated ramp-up and rampdown maintenance and training periods built into their operational schedules,” the report said.
On Wednesday, the Navy released a report that said three separate investigations looked into the collisions of the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain and found they were “avoidable.”
“Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents,” Richardson said in a statement. “We will spend every effort needed to correct these problems and be stronger than before.”
The report said that the officers on the USS Fitzgerald had an “unsatisfactory” knowledge of the International Rules of the Nautical Road and watch team members were not familiar with fundamental equipment or protocols.
The report said that the USS John S McCain collision was caused by the crew’s “sub-standard level of knowledge regarding the operation of the ship control console.” Specifically, the report states that no one on the ship’s watch team “were properly trained on how to correctly operate the ship control console during a steering casualty.”
The report said that the USS Fitzgerald collision was caused by “a lack of adherence to sound navigational practices.”Specifically, the report says the ship’s watch team “disregarded established norms of basic contact management” and the ship’s leadership “failed to adhere to well-established protocols put in place to prevent collisions.”
The report released on Wednesday also states that the commanders on the USS Fitzgerald “failed to assess the risks of fatigue and implement mitigation measures to ensure adequate crew rest” before the collision.
In his review, Davidson also notes many of the problems were caused by a lack of sleep, and made recommendations for the Navy to better manage the schedules of sailors, especially those who stand watch.
“Sailors need to know when they must succumb to their own fatigue, be proactive about their fatigue management plan, and reach out to leadership,” the report said.
In 2014, the Navy conducted a study of a standard workweek on an overseas ship and found that sailors were on duty for 108 hours a week. The study found that the reduced sleep time “could encourage a poor safety culture.”