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Navy review finds gaps in training, basic seamanship in western Pacific

November 3, 2017
In The News

The Navy's surface fleet in the western Pacific is inadequately prepared for emergency situations, has gaps in training and basic seamanship, and has taken shortcuts to meet rising operational demand.

Those were some of the findings of a comprehensive review released by the Navy on Thursday that sought to identify systemic factors that contributed to a rash of accidents earlier this year, two of them deadly, involving Navy surface ships assigned to the 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan.

A day earlier, the Navy released reports on the deadly collisions involving the USS Fitzgerald and USS John McCain that found both were preventable. Two Connecticut sailors were among the 17 U.S. sailors lost in the two accidents.

"The Navy's been run hard in the past 16 years of war and the pace is picking up, especially in the Pacific. Recent experience has shown that if we're not careful, we can become overstretched, over extended. And if we take our eye off the fundamentals, we become vulnerable to mistakes at all levels of command," Adm. John Richardson, the head of the Navy, said during a news conference that was broadcast live Thursday.

The review makes 58 recommendations, including improving seamanship training and increasing sleep and stress management for sailors.

"The review does not sugar coat the fact that glaring deficiencies in training and leadership subjected ships and sailors to unacceptable risks in the 'can do' culture that predominated in the western Pacific," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said in a written statement.

Among the recommendations, Courtney said a top priority should be setting up a command that is solely responsible for the manning, training and equipping of Navy forces within the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The investigations into the Fitzgerald and McCain collisions lay out, often in excruciating detail, the actions taken by the crews. In the case of the Fitzgerald, the collision "resulted from an accumulation of smaller errors over time, ultimately resulting in a lack of adherence to sound navigational practices."

As for the McCain collision, the Navy found it "resulted primarily from complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedural compliance. A major contributing factor to the collision was sub-standard level of knowledge regarding the operation of the ship control console."

Courtney said some practices from the submarine force could be applied to the surface fleet, such as ensuring sailors are 100 percent qualified when new equipment is installed before heading out to sea.

The submarine force had its own awakening of sorts following the sinking of the USS Thresher in April 1963, which killed all 129 men on board. Within two months of the Thresher sinking, the Navy developed new submarine safety standards as part of a program that became known as SUBSAFE. The Navy has never lost a SUBSAFE-certified submarine. Prior to the Thresher sinking, 16 submarines were lost in accidents and collisions.