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We'll Probably Never Know the Real Story Behind the USS Fitzgerald Collision

Don't expect the US Navy to be forthcoming about what went wrong

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

In the wee small hours of Saturday morning, June 17, 2017, something happened that was not supposed to happen. 

While in the territorial waters of Japan, the US Navy guided missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald was struck on the starboard side by the Philippine-flagged container ship ACX Crystal. Yet both the US Navy vessel and the container ship carried radar-based collision avoidance systems. These very expensive systems are designed to "see" the ship's surroundings, and also calculate a crash possibility.

<figcaption>The aftermath</figcaption>
The aftermath

All ships carry navigation lights, monitor radio broadcast, and no doubt would have the old reliable human lookouts on duty.

But according to the ACX Crystal's captain, the USS Fitzgerald failed to respond to warning signals before the collision took place. Quite revealing if true. 

Now, collisions have happened before. One that comes to mind was when the USS Greeneville, a Los Angles class nuclear submarine, struck a Japanese training fishing trawler, the Ehime Maru, on February 9th, 2001.

The accident occurred after the USS Greeneville suddenly lurched out of the pacific waters near Hawaii—all for the benefit of several select VIP civilians onboard.

I'm not pulling your anchor-chain. It is all documented.

Whether it was the Pentagon's directive or the captain's showmanship that authorized this maneuver is a matter of conjecture. Why the sonar and periscope wasn't used, or simply overlooked by the young sailors manning a billion dollars worth of military hardware, will remain a secret of the Naval Board of Inquiry. 


The Ehime Maru - at the bottom of the ocean


Are we beginning to notice a pattern? 

Another example: BB-61—better known as the USS Iowa—made headlines when 47 sailors were killed in a gun turret explosion in April, 1989. 

Inquires into the tragedy produced two conflicting conclusions. The US Navy theorized that the explosion was the handiwork of a suicidal sailor distraught over being rejected by a lover.

In this proposed scenario, it's claimed that the sailor used some sort of detonator to touch off the bags of powder used to charge and fire the gun. His family as well as other sailors disputed this crass and unsubstantiated conclusion and after another more exhausting investigation, the findings were conclusive enough to say that the over-ramming of powder into the gun's breech was the far more plausible cause.

USS Iowa turret explosion


Remarkably, the Navy has never reversed its initial conclusion. So how does this all tie into the Fitzgerald/Crystal encounter?

The US Navy will almost certainly do everything it can to sway public opinion away from the inconvenient or embarrassing truth about the Fitzgerald's collision. It seems unlikely that human error alone is the cause of this accident. 

Did the USS Fitzgerald brass deliberately turn off the ship's sensors as part of a training exercise? Was its speed and course being altered to simulate a hostile action? 

Make no mistake, this won't be the last we will hear of this kafuffle.

Seven sailors dying is a tragedy regardless from what port they sail - but don't expect the US Navy to be forthcoming about what went wrong.

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