Navy Files Homicide Charges Against Ship Commanders in Deadly Collisions


The commanding officers for two American warships crippled in fatal accidents are facing military criminal charges ranging from negligent homicide to dereliction of duty.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald was involved in a tragic collision with a merchant vessel in June that ended the lives of seven American sailors.

Two months later, ten more sailors were killed when the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker.

The two 7th Fleet vessels will require hundreds of millions of dollars for repairs.

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“After careful deliberation, today Admiral Frank Caldwell announced that Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) charges are being preferred against individual service members in relation to the collisions,” the Navy said in a statement Tuesday.

Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the former commander of the Fitzgerald, together with three junior officers, face military criminal charges including dereliction of duty, hazarding a vessel and negligent homicide.

Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez, former commander of the McCain, faces the same charges, according to USNI News.

The charges come after a comprehensive investigation into the cause of these deadly accidents. Numerous Navy officers, including the former head of the 7th Fleet, have been removed from their commands due to concerns over their leadership abilities.

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Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, concluded that the accidents were “preventable” byproducts of devastating command and training failures on the part of both officers and crew.

“The collision between Fitzgerald and Crystal was avoidable and resulted from an accumulation of smaller errors over time, ultimately resulting in a lack of adherence to sound navigational practices,” the Navy said in a November statement.

“Specifically, Fitzgerald’s watch teams disregarded established norms of basic contact management and, more importantly, leadership failed to adhere to well-established protocols put in place to prevent collisions. In addition, the ship’s triad was absent during an evolution where their experience, guidance and example would have greatly benefited the ship.”

In regard to the accident involving the McCain, the Navy said it was due in large part to “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,” the statement read. “In particular, McCain’s commanding officer disregarded recommendations from his executive officer, navigator and senior watch officer to set sea and anchor watch teams in a timely fashion to ensure the safe and effective operation of the ship.”

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Moreover, “no one on the Bridge watch team, to include the commanding officer and executive officer, were properly trained on how to correctly operate the ship control console during a steering casualty.”

Despite both accidents, Richardson emphasized the Navy’s desire to correct the issues that led to both collisions so that similar incidents will never occur.

“We are a Navy that learns from mistakes and the Navy is firmly committed to doing everything possible to prevent an accident like this from happening again. We must never allow an accident like this to take the lives of such magnificent young Sailors and inflict such painful grief on their families and the nation,” he said.

“The vast majority of our Sailors are conducting their missions effectively and professionally — protecting America from attack, promoting our interests and prosperity, and advocating for the rules that govern the vast commons from the sea floor to space and in cyberspace.”

A version of this article appeared on The Daily Caller News Foundation website.

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