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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Many questions remain about collision of USS Fitzgerald with a cargo ship

(June 24)There are still many questions as to how the U.S. destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald managed to be hit by the bow of a cargo vessel off the Japan coast.
 

The collision was deadly for the crew of the destroyer as seven sailors were killed and other crew members were injured.
So far know one really knows what happened to cause the collision and why it was not avoided. Official inquiries could take months or even longer. The U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard will both in time issue reports describing what happened and could very well make recommendations as to how such a collision could be avoided in the future. Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, commander of the 7th Fleet said: "I will not speculate on how long these investigations will last."
The $1.8 billion Fitzgerald is one of the most modern and technologically advanced warships in existence. However, most of the crew were probably asleep when the collision occurred around 2:50 AM local time. The sea in the area is often crowded with ships on their way in and out of Tokyo. Sailors in the Fitzgerald combat information area and on the bridge are responsible for using the ships' sensors to plot the location of other ships, as well as their speed and their direction. Officers and sailors in the information area must at all times keep good "situational awareness" about what their own ship is doing and also white might be in their path.
The damage to the cargo ship Crystal was on the left or port side of its bar. This suggests that it could have been traveling in the same direction as the Fitzgerald at the time of the crash. It could even have been trailing the destroyer. The crew of the Fitzgerald could have been watching what was ahead of them and not noticed that the Crystal was getting ever closer until it was too late.
Perhaps no one was on the bridge of the Crystal. Compared with Navy ships the huge ships often use autopilot especially in the wide open ocean. The U.S. Coast Guard has warned mariners of relying too much on autopilots after a series of accidents. The Fitzgerald almost certainly had sailors and officers on the bridge on what is called the overnight "midwatch". These were the watchstanders who would have made the critical decisions as to what to do before the collision.
The watchstanders may have been busy with an entire screen with many contacts and were too distracted to notice the Crystal bearing down on them. On the other hand, it might have been so quiet that the crew was bored and complacent. Investigators will need to review navigational data and there should be recordings of what happened on the bridge.
We do know that the ship's commanding officer Cmdr. Bryce Benson was in his cabin at the time of the collision. The cabin was on the starboard side of the ship that was crushed and as a result Benson was hurt and airlifted to shore by a Japanese Coast Guard helicopter. Sailors were berthed in compartments further below deck and were flooded by the Crystal bow. Two berthing compartments and one machinery space which housed the gas turbine for generating the ship's electricity were flooded with seawater. Aucoin noted: "Heroic efforts prevented the flooding from catastrophically spreading, which could have caused the ship to founder or sink. It could have been much worse." The Fitzgerald was barely able to make it into Tokyo under its own power with many of their instruments not functioning and only one of two propellers working. The ship will require millions of dollars in repairs before it can set out to sea again. Acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley said:"In due time, the United States Navy will fully investigate the cause of this tragedy and I ask all of you to keep the Fitzgerald families in your thoughts and prayers as we begin the task of answering the many questions before us." The collision happened about 65 miles off the coast of Japan.
A New York Times article notes that there should also have been lookouts on strategic locations of the destroyer who should have seen the oncoming Crystal a huge ship:There should have been lookouts on watch on the port, starboard and stern of the destroyer Fitzgerald — sailors scanning the horizon with binoculars and reporting by headsets to the destroyer’s bridge. At 1:30 a.m. last Saturday, off the coast of Japan south of Tokyo, they could hardly have failed to see the 730-foot freighter ACX Crystal, stacked with more than 1,000 containers, as it closed in.
The Crystal was apparently on auto-pilot and under control of a computerized navigation system when it struck the Fitzgerald it appears from tacking data. There were no crew members on duty in the pilot house when the cargo ship rammed the Fitzgerald. The Fitzgerald is equipped with AN/SP5-64 navigation radar and would have had a watch on the bridge. Cargo ships such as the Crystal are required to broadcast AIS location data. and this should have been monitored by the Fitzgerald crew.
What is even more amazing is that the Crystal did not stop after the collision:An analysis of that data by the private data analytics company Savi shows that the Crystal slowed down after the collision but continued sailing on its course for about 36 minutes, at which point it turned around and headed back to the collision site. The crash was officially reported at 2:20 a.m. local time, nearly an hour after the fact.Steffan Warkins, an information technology security consultant says that this shows that the ship must have been on autopilot when the crash happened. The Crystal radioed the Japanese Coast Guard almost half an hour after the accident showing that nobody was on the bridge at the time of the accident. However, one would think that at least some of the 20 crew members would be wakened by the force of the collision.
Given the many questions raised by the collision it is not surprising that there are numerous conspiracy theories. Some specifically blame North Korea for the collision but others are open suggesting that it may be a false flag operation as on the appended video which argues that crucial information is being withheld from us. The conspiracy chap is right about the time reporting.

UPDATE| Another article with further information can be read here.

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