No question, it was the embarrassment of the season for the military, as the destroyer USS Fitzgerald crashed into a huge freighter in waters off Japan on June 17th of this year. Astoundingly, August offered a similar collision for the USS John McCain, as history plays its endless loop!
As the NY Times began it’s discussion of the calamity:
“There should have been lookouts on watch on the port, starboard, and stern of the destroyer…they could hardly have failed to see the 730-foot freighter ACX Crystal…as it closed in..”
Any event which leaves us stunned and asking, “Just what the hell could have happened here?” makes for a mystery, an exploration. The June crash sliced through all the fail-safes for maritime navigation in one swoop. No one scanning the horizon, old style (at least not anyone with good vision). No radar warnings, from the supposedly reliable (and darned expensive) computer systems onboard.
A crash that had numerous ways to be avoided caught everyone smack by surprise. Seven sailors died, the ship will be out of commission a good while. And the freighter sailed on without stopping at first, apparently unaware it had been hit. We know, that doesn’t sound possible, but it happened.
Already, the Fitzgerald’s captain and other top commanders have been disciplined, while rank and file sailors have been praised for the emergency response. But how could this have happened in any Navy, much less the modern one, with almost infinite money for radar and other hi-tech?
There’s a lot that Sherlock wants to know about these accidents, starting with the obvious: is computer navigation and warning reliable, or not? Apparently not in some cases, but why not? And why are other ships, sometimes tankers the size of floating cities, invisible to your guys with binoculars?
And…we always look carefully at an “investigation” by members of a bureaucracy with something at stake.. do they sugarcoat, look for scapegoats, paper over the biggest problems if those would be embarrassing to the top brass?
One sailor was quoted as saying that “somebody wasn’t paying attention,” a statement that seems to strike the mark, on so many levels. There’s a lot we want to know, and not just what’s visible on the surface of the water.