Monday, June 19, 2017


This Fathers Day Weekend brought to us a reminder of the nature of the sea even in times of peace. She is unforgiving, thoughtless, and can bring out the best and the worst in men. She is huge and vast, until she isn't. She can make you feel all alone in the world on one day, and then crowded, surrounded, and with no place to turn the next.

There is no such thing as a normal watch. At any moment, through acts of commission, omission or simply the pure randomness of fate, the laws of time, motion and physics can bring tragedy, death, and sorrow.

There is a lot of speculation going on with regard to the collision between the USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) (length 154m; displacement 9,000 tons) and the merchant ship ACX Crystal (length 222.6m, gross tonnage; 29,060 tons), and I think on balance in events such as this, it is unhealthy to speculate much on specifics. Generalities, sure ... but wait for facts. 

Make no mistake, the damage is worse than it looks in the pictures seen of the outside. Inside and below the waterline it is most likely far worse. There will be many lessons to come from this incident - and for me the most interesting will be the story of how the crew, with their CO out of action, were able to fight to keep their ship afloat.

On Sunday in USA Today, Bryan McGrath and Jerry Hendrix outlined about as much as we need to know right now until more information is released;
“This is big news because it happens so rarely,” said Bryan McGrath, a retired Navy commander whose last command was the USS Bulkeley, a destroyer similar to the Fitzgerald. “It happens rarely not because ship movements are so simple and straightforward — but because a high degree of professionalism is demanded from both military and commercial operators."
“A U.S. ship is damaged in a collision to my knowledge, only every couple of years,” said McGrath, who is now managing director The FerryBridge Group, a national security consulting firm. “Loss of life, as we’ve had in this instance, is even rarer.”

Ships have nautical rules of the road established by the International Maritime Organization. Ships have technology such as radar and crew members to lookout for other vessels.

“It is far too early to speculate as to the cause of this particular accident. We just don’t have the evidence in yet,” said Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain who was director of naval history. “In the past, these circumstances generally are attributed to some error in navigation on the part of one bridge crew or the other.”

McGrath warned that electronic systems don’t always conform to what crew members see, “especially at night.”

“What I can say is that because ships are large and somewhat lumbering, it takes time to turn or change speed,” McGrath said.
“Whatever mistakes were made by either ship, those things will be collected, they will be synthesized, and then they will be taught to future generations of navigators and mariners so that we can learn from them and not repeat the mistakes of the past,”...
McGrath provides a very good "how can this happen?" primer over at WOTR that helps get everyone on the right page as more information is released.

Until then, let's do what is appropriate at this time. Let's give a nod to the crew of the FITZ who kept the ship afloat, and recognize our Shipmates who lost their lives while at sea;
- Gunner's Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia

- Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California

- Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut

- Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas

- Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California

- Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland

- Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio
When it comes to keeping your ship together, if you have not seen the USNA Museum's Naval History Panel from August 22, 2014 with panelist CAPT Paul Rinn, USN (Ret) and CDR Kirk Lippold, USN (Ret) on leadership and damage control, here's the video.

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