Oh, no not again! US warship collides with Japanese tug boat

For the 5th time this year, a US warship belonging to the 7th Fleet has been involved in a crash. The guided missile destroyer USS Benfold collided with a Japanese tug boat in Sagami Bay. Damage to the warship is unkown and there were no injuries on either vessel.

NBC News:

The USS Benfold, a guided-missile destroyer, sustained minor damage when a tugboat lost propulsion and drifted into the ship, the Navy said. No one was injured on either vessel and an initial assessment of the damage showed that the destroyer only sustained minimal damage including scrapes.

But the accident comes at a time when the Navy's 7th Fleet and the U.S. Pacific Command have come under increased scrutiny after several deadly collisions in the region earlier this year.

In June, seven sailors died when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine container ship. Then, in August, the USS McCain collided with a tanker off the coast of Singapore, killing 10 sailors. After the collision, the Navy ordered the entire fleet to take a one-day “operational pause” to ensure that the ships were meeting safety standards.

In the wake of the accidents, several of the 7th fleet’s leaders were ousted and Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific fleet, announced that he would retire from his position after he learned there was no chance for him to be promoted.

Other incidents were minor, but troubling in their implications:

The USS Antietam ran aground off the coast of Japan on Jan. 31, damaging its propellers and spilling oil into the water.

The guided-missile destroyer grounded near the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, after anchoring out in high winds, the Navy Times reported.

The USS Lake Champlain, also a guided-missile cruiser, collided with a South Korean fishing boat in the Sea of Japan May 9.

The warship was engaged in routine training when it collided with the 9.8-ton fishing boat off South Korea's east coast, according to The Associated Press.

Is this a leadership problem? Inadequate safety protocols? Or just bad luck?

The Navy thought that leadership was at least partly to blame when they scrambled the fleet command. But with all the electronic wizardry on these ships, you would think some crewman somewhere would have alerted the ship's command to the proximity of other vessels. Why not?

A report on the two fatal collisions supplies some answers:

The report reveals that both collisions came after critical failures of officers and sailors on the bridge and raises troubling questions about the basic proficiency of the Japan-based 7th Fleet and the surface Navy as a whole.

In both incidents, sailors on the bridge failed to sound a ship-wide alarm notifying the crew of danger, which is a standard Navy procedure.

Ships at sea must sound five short blasts of the ship’s whistle to alert the crew and the other ship of a coming collision. That did not occur in either collision. Neither the crew members below deck nor the other ships involved had any warning from the Navy that their ships were headed for disaster, the reports found.

Also, neither bridge’s watch standers sought to make bridge-to-bridge radio communication with the approaching ship, which is also a standard Navy procedure.

This is nearly incomprehensible. Bad luck certainly had nothing to do with those fatal collisions. As for this latest incident, it sounds as if similar breakdowns observing safety protocols may also be at fault.

Is this a consequence of the high tech gadgetry on board giving the crew a false sense of security? Or is it dereliction of duty? More answers are needed to determine why this spate of accidents is occurring and how similar incidents can be avoided in the future.