US destroyer collisions: Navy to charge former officers with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty

Former US Navy officers in charge of two destroyers involved in fatal collisions in the Pacific in 2017 are facing charges of dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide, the US Navy said in a statement on January 16.

US Navy Admiral Frank Caldwell, the man in charge of a review into the accountability actions taken to date in relation to USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) collisions, announced that Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) charges are being preferred against individual service members in relation to the collisions.

More specifically, a commander, two lieutenants, and one lieutenant junior grade aboard Fitzgerald are facing charges of dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide.

USS John S. McCain’s commanding officer is facing the same charges while a chief petty officer could be charged with dereliction of duty pending referral to a forum.

“The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses. All individuals alleged to have committed misconduct are entitled to a presumption of innocence”, the US Navy said in a statement.

Additional administrative actions are being conducted for members of both crews including non-judicial punishment for four Fitzgerald and four John S. McCain crewmembers.



Deadly collisions in the Pacific

US Navy ships were involved in four collisions in the Pacific last year. A guided-missile cruiser grounding and a collision with a fishing vessel could be considered as minor ones compared to the deadly collisions guided-missile destroyers USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald were involved in.

Seven sailors lost their lives when Fitzgerald collided with the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal on June 17. The collision of John S. McCain with the merchant vessel Alnic MC east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on August 21 cost the lives of ten sailors.