How two ships may have collided resulting in 7 U.S. sailors' deaths

Former Lt. shares insights about ship's technology
Posted at 4:36 PM, Jun 26, 2017

A former Navy sailor who navigated the same waters where seven U.S. sailors died after the USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship, says such incidents are rare and almost always caused by human error.

“A collision of this severity happens maybe once or twice a decade,” Former Navy Lieutenant Rob Cripps said. “A lot of things had to go wrong for this collision to have happened.”

Cripps is an expert in navigation.

“It was my job to train other junior officers on ships handling, navigation, collision avoidance,” he said. “I can't imagine that this collision would have happened without a significant amount of human error.”

The collision happened in clear weather on June 17, about 56 miles off the coast of Japan.

The crash came suddenly. It threw sleeping sailors from their beds. Water began pouring into the ship.

Crew members rushed to prevent the boat from sinking.

“The damage was significant. This was not a small collision,” Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, Commander U.S. 7th Fleet, said in a news conference after the incident. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the families.”

The ship was equipped with high tech gear and advanced sensors.

Destroyers similar to the USS Fitzgerald go on offensive and defensive missions.

They can weigh nearly 10,000 tons.

The Navy’s website says the ships have "lightning-quick communications, space-based radar systems.”

Under international maritime rules the give-way vessel is responsible for avoiding collisions.

“The way the two ships collided shows the Fitzgerald was actually the give-way vessel. The Fitzgerald should have maneuvered to avoid collision,” Cripps said.

Cripps believes that traffic in the area may have contributed to the incident.

“Picture an 8-lane highway. There are shipping containers in and out. There’s a lot of naval traffic,” he said.