Asleep at the wheel?

Can someone out there help us to understand how a United States Navy warship accidentally collided with a cargo ship?

We deserve better


13 Responses to Asleep at the wheel?

  1. Anonymous says:

    Message to North Korea! If you launch another missile we’ll crash into your ships! We’re not bluffing! We know how to do it!


  2. Anonymous says:

    I used to believe in the moon landing….. But now I find out that we don’t even have the technology to build a decent radar! If we can’t keep from crashing our ships? How could we possibly land a man on the moon?


  3. Anonymous says:

    Answer #1 the new malenial sailor’s don’t have enough discipline to stay awake on duty.
    Answer #2 it’s nice that the Navy has started letting disabled person’s join, but is it a good idea to let the blind guy drive?
    Answer #3 I thought it was a video game? Just hit the reset button duh!


  4. Haiduc says:

    You cannot rely on “news” reports and why not wait until the official report is released. Pray for those injured and died.


  5. Here is an inside look on the workings of the bridge of a Navy ship. I have been the Officer of the Deck for multiple ships and have transited in these exact waters going in and out of Tokyo and Yokuska and it is indeed a crowded sea. This is not my explanation but one offered by Captain Eyer and it hits the nail on the head. Gerry Mangrum, USN (Ret)

    The inner workings of Command and a view from the Bridge, as no else can explain! BZ Captain Eyer!
    Please understand that this is speculation, on my part. I wasn’t in Fitzgerald, and so I’m guessing here, but I keep getting asked; “How could this happen? It’s a big ocean, after all. How could two ships get so close to one another?”
    I wanted to share some insights.
    It is a big ocean. Until you’ve been far into it, it’s really hard to appreciate just how big it is. Bringing a ship back from Japan to Hawaii, I once went 10 days without seeing another ship, either by eye or radar. 10 days. That’s a long time to be utterly alone in the world, especially if you’re moving in a straight line, and as good speed. On the other hand, I think you’d be surprised at how crowded it can get in certain places. The easiest example that I can think of to illustrate this point is the Strait of Malacca, which divides the island of Sumatra from Malaysia. Not only is Singapore at the southern end – one of the great maritime ports of the world – but it is not unfair to say that all the shipping in the world, moving between Asia and Africa and the Middle East and Europe, travels through this increasingly narrow 600 mile long passage. Every year, 100,000 ships go through it, and it is by the way, infested with both pirates and quite literally thousands of fishing boats. If you look at it on a map, it may seem wide, but the passable channel for big ships is really only a couple of miles wide, and again, clogged with fishing boats. It’s not fun to navigate, but it is thrilling.
    Tokyo Bay or “Tokyo Wan” is like that. Yes, the area where the Fitzgerald collision took place is more wide open than the Wan, itself, but just like off Norfolk or Boston or Los Angeles, dozens of ships are approaching at any time, all heading for a very narrow entrance channel, all on tight schedules. It’s like a funnel, necking down to the shipping channel which goes into the port. Outside the shipping channel, with its strict rules, the mouth of the funnel is the Wild West. In any given night, ships will mill about, outside the shipping channels, waiting for dawn, when they can both use their eyes, and meet the pilots who will berth their ships in port. All those huge ships, lollygagging around. It’s a mess. It really is a mess. Personally, I used to avoid this mess by slowing my track so that I didn’t even arrive at the funnel mouth until dawn, but sometimes you don’t have a choice, and you spend tense hours trying to avoid other ships, praying for the light.
    Imagine you are on the bridge of your ship and you are waiting off Tokyo…or more specifically, Yokosuka, which is right down the coast, and the home of Fitzgerald in Japan. There may be moonlight, which is a help, or the sky make be overcast, or there may be no moon, or maybe the moon rose and set earlier, or maybe it will rise and set later. Maybe it’s only a silver of moon.
    My point is, that it can be utterly black at sea. You have no idea how black.
    And what do you see with your eyes there off Tokyo? You see a horizon full of lights. Some on land, some from ships. Some moving, some not moving. Different colors. All of these lights are engineered to be visible at certain ranges. For example the visibility of a ship’s masthead light is supposed to be 6 miles. A sidelight is 3 miles. But the weather and fiat may increase or decrease the visibility. In other words, if you see a ship’s masthead light suddenly appear, you may want to believe that, “oh, that dude is 6 miles away for me”. But, maybe not. You need to worry about all of these lights until you figure them alllllll out. And they’re constantly changing, too. In other words, it’s a very complex puzzle for even the most experienced mariner.
    You decode the puzzle by using your radar and your charts to associate these lights with ship or objects on the beach. Just as your eye is not perfect, though, neither is radar. Different radars have different characteristics, and they are better or worse at different ranges and in different situations. Some are good in rain, some don’t even remotely help in a heavy rain. Ideally, you use several very different radars, in concert, as well as a system called AIS, which tracks a discrete identifier on most ships (too complicated to go into here, I think).
    My point is that being at sea, at night, in the real dark, can be complex and confusing, and it is an experienced mariner who is able to sort things effectively.
    And who do you think is figuring this all out?
    Here’s how it works, in general: The Captain is “on call” 24/7. He sleeps in a cabin only a few feet away from the pilot house, where all of this “figuring” is going on. He stays up late, and he rises early. He doesn’t even want to sleep, because if anything goes wrong, he’s going to get hung.
    Back to who’s in charge at night when the Captain is sleeping (or during the day when he’s doing something else, somewhere else in the ship). The Captain is responsible for “qualifying” his or her, “Officers of the Deck” or “OODs”. These are young officers or very experienced chief petty officer, who are charged to act in the Captain’s stead, when he or she is not physically in the pilot house. That OOD may be salty or they may be green as grass. Only the Captain can decide when they’re ready to stand the watch as OOD, and qualify them, legally. But you must understand that there is pressure on the Captain, for to not qualify a young officer as OOD is a death warrant for that young officer. If you’re not an OOD, you’re of no use to the fleet, and you should just go home.
    So, it is completely normal for a Captain to qualify an officer, and then trust in the system. People sometimes talk about the trust reposed in young officers. I can tell you from personal experience that it is something…something big…to be an OOD, entrusted with a billion dollars of ship and the lives of 360 Sailors. Something thrilling and something frightening.
    This is the burden of command. A captain puts the lives of several hundred persons into the hands of a young officer, typically 25 years old, typically green. What everyone count on to prevent disaster is this: The Captain has something called “standing orders”. These are the rules, in his or her ship, that everyone (but especially the OOD) lives by. These are the unbreakable laws. One of these laws is, inevitably, is, “Call me when any ship comes within 10,000 yard (5 miles) of my ship.
    So, all though the night, the Captain is receiving phone calls: “Sir, this is the Officer of the Deck…I have a contact, broad on the starboard bow at 12,000 yards. He is drifting left to a CPA on our port bow of 6,000 yards, in 20 minutes. My intention is to maintain course and speed.”
    The Captain receives these calls, when at sea, all the time, night and day. What he or she does when the OOD calls is to envisions the situation in his or her head and then give instructions, if necessary, to the OOD. Then decides whether he likes the OODs report and solution. Or, if he feels a tingling in his gut the Captain will go to the bridge and see for him or herself. You have to read voices – does the OOD sound settled, confident? Is there a hint of concern? A captain reads minds. He or she has to.
    Here’s where things can and do go wrong. Sometimes, the OOD is afraid to call the Captain. Maybe the Captain is typically intimidating. Maybe the OOD, despite his or her intentions, let a ship get within 10,000 yards before he or she called. Now the OOD is in peril of getting his or her head shot off by a Captain who cannot possibly understand why the OOD didn’t understand the meaning of 10,000 yards. Maybe he’ll lose the captain’s trust? Maybe she’ll get fired?
    Captains have to be very careful not to get mad or cranky when called. You don’t want to make your OODs scared to call in the first place, and if they expect to get crucified…. This is common: Maybe the OOD thought it was about to turn away for some reason, and then it didn’t. Suddenly, the ship the OOD thought was going to get no closer than 11,000 yards is at 6,000 yards. Seriously: Holy shite!
    It take a ship going 15 knots only 6 minutes to go 3000 yards. What if you’re going 15 and he’s going 15….the range can decrease by 6000 yards in 6 minutes. 6 minutes can go by in a flash. Heck, at night, with all the confusion in a busy seaway, he can be on you before you know it.
    And then what? This is only a guess, but here is one possible, and very realistic way things might have gone wrong in Fitzgerald: Forget the other ship. Why was he turning? Doesn’t matter. For whatever reason, the evidence shows that when the collision occurred, Fitz was crossing in front of the merchant ship. The “Rules of the Road,” the law by which mariners live, clearly suggest that the Fitzgerald was obligated to pass astern of the merchant, not ahead. So, why was Fitzgerald doing something in violation of the law?
    The Captain appears to have been asleep. This is known. He was never given the opportunity to rescue things.
    Here’s something that is interesting about Captains of ships. If anything goes wrong in their ship, they are the tethered goat that gets eaten by the T Rex. You take the responsibility of Command. You take the honors. You take the complete risk, too. We all know this going in. You watch what happens in Fitzgerald – it’s the most remarkable display. Even if he was sound asleep; even if he was new to the command and “inherited” his OODs; even if no one bothered to call him and say “Captain, I need you here, right away”. His career is over. Over. And he won’t complain about it or sue anyone or make a peep. He’ll take his medicine like a woman. This is an enormous matter of pride to ship captains. It is also why, when I meet an officer who is wearing a tiny little badge on their uniform; a “command at sea” pin, they automatically have my respect, no matter how else they are. I know this about them: They survived two years, with 360 wild-cards, any one of which could accidentally either kill, get killed or destroy a billion dollar national asset. Captains who lived through this, knowing that one error by one person, could result in the Captain, and the Captain along getting fired, well those folks need a wheelbarrow to get their balls around they’re so big. That’s what I think.
    But, that’s a different story, for a different time.
    I think this is what happened. The OOD was confused by what was going on. It was dark, confusing, busy, and they weren’t the most experienced of mariners. Suddenly, the merchant ship he or she thought was long gone was unexpectedly coming back at him and was way inside report limits. I think she figured at some point in this unexpected development, that she could safely pass ahead of the merchant and not have to wake up the Captain, who might only be upset with them. I think he thought he’d be well clear, and not only would the problem be solved, but he wouldn’t have to have the Captain come up and murder him on the spot. Or maybe she knew the Captain was wiped out, and she didn’t want to disturb the poor man or woman, any more. Either way, he got into a race with 50,000 tons of NOT maneuverable merchant ship
    This begs the question of what the Combat Information Center, was doing? There is an officer down inside the ship, who is backing up the OOD. This is the CIC Watch Officer. What did they know? What did they do? Did they say “what the hell are you doing?” Did they say, “Call the Captain right now, or I will?” Looks like maybe not. Looks like the OOD didn’t have backup.
    Anyway, the race was on. Suddenly, the OOD realized that he was screwed. Maybe she sped up thinking that speed could save her life. As it turned out, that only made things worse. Now the closure rate is increased as well as the cost of collision. It’s too late to turn right (which he should have done long ago) and go behind the merchant. Turn right and you’d just spear him with the bow of your ship. So you race and pray. Maybe you’ll make it. Disaster averted! But, not all prayers are answered.
    What could she have done other than following the law of the sea? He could have just stopped: All engines back full. That ship, even when going at flank speed can stop dead in the water inside of 600 feet. Her own length. Course that change in engines woulda woken the captain up, and he’d be up there in a shot…don’t wanna do that….
    Anyway. It is a big ocean, but it can get crowded…And confusing. And if you don’t call the Captain to the bridge in an emergence, things can go very wrong. Or, if you call him too late, it may be too late. I don’t think he was ever called at all. I don’t think the CIC Watch Officer helped him or her. And, as I said, it can get crowded out there, in the dark, and things can happen quickly even for 50,000 ton ships.
    This is all conjecture, and maybe nothing of the sort happened in Fitz. On the other hand, this sort of thing happens more than we like to imagine, every night, at sea.


    • ripper1951 says:

      Gerald, excellent! I, too, have been there and have the coffee mug as well as the slight trembling when I think about it. At this moment that CO is distraught. The OOD, Conning Officer and CICWO are all probably in tears. Let us lift our drinks in toast to those who have gone before us and in commiseration with those who remained behind.


  6. Dan Wever says:

    No, but I can assure you that the Captain will not be on the ship very much longer. 😦


  7. ripper1951 says:

    Not the merchant’s fault. It was the stand on vessel. The destroyer was the give way vessel. They were in a very restricted maneuvering area, lots of traffic- merchants, fishing, small craft. Destroyer CO was in his cabin when he should have been on the bridge by most standing and night orders. OOD, JOOD, Conning officer were overwhelmed by traffic. Maybe hubris caused them to try to bluff the merchant into maneuvering, but bottom line was the destroyer should have changed course to avoid the constant bearing decreasing range large contact. Container ship outweighed him probably 5-1. Law of Gross Tonnage. Container ship has a forward prow under water, 15 knots of speed, used light, sound and radio comms. I can accurately predict the CO being fired along with at least the OOD, JOOD, Conning Officer, CICWO. And there are no “cruise control” devices that will prevent stupidity like this. No auto-pilots. Just a bunch of warning devices and probably a tired crew.


  8. Anonymous says:

    Amazing, ain’t it? I know we have some Sailors, Retirees out there that can ‘splain this to us. With the computers, auto-pilots, would seem that this incident would be almost impossible with modern Navy ships. They put those big boats on “Cruise Control” and would think they virtually run themselves, except for GQ or when under attack, combat conditions. Personally think this was an ATTACK. The Fitzgerald was INTENTIONALLY RAMMED . Not port or aft, but midships, the Captains, crews Quarters, where crews were sleeping. Think the investigations will show it was a terrorist attack and our Sailors were murdered in the attack.


  9. Tickedofftaxpayer says:

    Actually today’s news shows a cargo ship course deviation that caused the crash and then it cruised on making the u-turn later to return to help the Navy ship, instead of immediately rendering assistance. Still a lot unexplained.


    • ripper1951 says:

      Takes a long time to slow a merchant that heavy and big. Again the reporting system being used for illustration in the news is not accurate to indicate maneuvering.


  10. Tickedofftaxpayer says:

    From the news reports, it appears the cargo ship did an abrupt u-turn and rammed the Navy ship. I’d wait for the results of the investigation before criticizing the Navy on this one. Something’s not right.


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