170713-N-NT265-025 YOKOSUKA, Japan (July 13, 2017) The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) sits in Dry Dock 4 at Fleet Activities Yokosuka to continue repairs and assess damage sustained from its June 17 collision with a merchant vessel. This view shows damage above the waterline to the outside skin of the ship. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Christian Senyk/Released)

Captains of Collision Vessels to Face Military Charges

The captains of USS Fitzgerald and USS John S McCain, which were involved in two separate collisions last year, are to face military criminal charges.

Admiral Frank Caldwell, the officer in charge of the investigations, recommended that five officers and one chief petty officer are recommended for military charges in total.

From USS Fitzgerald, which collided with a Phillipine-flagged container ship in June, killing seven sailors, Cmdr. Bryce Benson and three others have been recommended for charges. Cmdr Benson was the chief commanding officer, and two Lieutenants and one Lieutenant Junior Grade have also been recommended for charges, which include, dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide. The investigation into the collision found that watchstanders were looking the wrong way, and when danger was identified, the officer of the deck froze before giving an order and then retracting it as danger approached. Investigators concluded that: “The command leadership did not foster a culture of critical self-assessment.”

From USS John S McCain, which collided with a Liberian flagged tanker in August killing ten sailors, the ship’s former commanding officer Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez is facing charges of dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel, and negligent homicide. Adm. Caldwell also recommended that a chief petty officer face a charge of dereliction of duty. The investigation found that Sanchez had failed to set a sea-and-anchor detail, when the ship was moving through one of the busiest sea lanes in the world, which could have averted the collision.

In a statement, US Navy Chief of Information (Acting), Captain Greg Hicks said: “The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses. All individuals alleged to have committed misconduct are entitled to a presumption of innocence.”

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