San Diego

Sweeping Changes Seen in U.S. Navy 1 Year After USS Fitzgerald Collision

It was one year ago that seven sailors, including two from San Diego, died in a Navy ship collision that resulted in sweeping changes across the branch.

USS Fitzgerald collided with a large merchant ship off the coast of Japan on June 17, 2017. The damage left a gaping hole in the destroyer’s berth compartment and an even larger one in the lives of the families of the fallen sailors.

Yeoman 3rd class Shingo Douglass of San Diego and Fire Controlman 2nd class Carlos Victor Sibayan of Chula Vista were among the dead.

The then commander of the 7th Fleet, Retired Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin was fired two months later after USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker near Singapore killing 10 crew members.

The Navy put the 7th Fleet under the microscope and conducted a Comprehensive and Strategic Readiness Review, vowing to make changes to avoid future tragedy.

“Recent Experience has shown if we're not careful we can become overstretched, overextended, and if we take our eye off the fundamentals we become vulnerable to mistakes at all levels of command,” Admiral John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, said.

As a result of the investigation the Navy made significant changes. Division officers will now serve a combined 48 months at sea and the Basic Division Officer Course will be augmented with a rigorous six-week Officer of the Deck Bridge Watch Standing Course.

Leadership aboard USS Fitzgerald was shuffled, too. Commander Bryce Benson was charged with dereliction of duty and negligent homicide. He waived his Article 32 hearing and is taking his case to trial.

Another officer accepted a guilty plea deal and was sentenced to three months, reduced pay and issued a punitive reprimand. Two other officers have been recommended to be separated from the Navy.

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