World News

Navy Plans to Discipline Top Officers for Crashes

Posted January 16, 2018 10:45 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON — The commanding officers of two n aval destroyers that collided with commercial vessels in the western Pacific last year, killing a total of 17 American sailors, will face court-martial charges that could include negligent homicide, the Navy said on Tuesday.

After the collisions, the commanding officers, Cmdr. Bryce Benson of the Fitzgerald, and Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez of the John S. McCain, along with their second-in-commands, were relieved of their duties. Still, in October, the Navy began looking into further disciplinary actions for those involved.

Adm. Frank Caldwell, one of the lead officers assigned to the investigation, said that those charges could include dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide, the Navy said in a statement.

The two commanding officers and three other sailors aboard the Fitzgerald will likely be charged during a preliminary hearing in the coming weeks.

The announcement of a hearing and of court-martial charges “is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses,” the statement said.

A chief petty officer from the John S. McCain has already been referred to court-martial for dereliction of duty while eight other crew members, four from each ship, face administrative actions.

Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, the head of the 7th Fleet, the Navy’s largest overseas, was also relieved last year in connection to the accidents.

In November, the Navy released collision reports that covered the June 17 episode between the Fitzgerald and a commercial ship that killed seven sailors off Japan and the Aug. 21 collision between the John S. McCain and another commercial vessel, the Alnic MC, that left 10 dead as the destroyer approached Singapore.

The Navy concluded that both collisions resulted in a chain of errors, missed warnings and poor training.

“The collisions were avoidable,” Adm. John M. Richardson, the chief of naval operations, said in a summary of the reports, released in November.

Richardson and the secretary of the Navy, Richard V. Spencer, are set to appear in front of two subcommittees of the House Armed Services on Thursday, focusing extensively on naval operations.