Monday, June 26, 2017

Yeah, But You Should See the Other Guy...

Freighter Captain Says U.S. Destroyer Ignored Warnings


The account from Ronald Advincula is the first available direct testimony from either crew

The container ship ACX Crystal, with its left bow dented and scraped after colliding with the USS Fitzgerald on June 17, seen berthed at the Yokohama port near Tokyo. The container ship ACX Crystal, with its left bow dented and scraped after colliding with the USS Fitzgerald on June 17, seen berthed at the Yokohama port near Tokyo. Photo: Haruna Usui/Associated Press
The captain of a cargo ship that hit a U.S. destroyer near Japan earlier this month has told investigators that the ship sent emergency warnings as the American vessel suddenly cut across its path, according to a person with direct knowledge of the testimony.

The ACX Crystal blared its horn and flashed its lights as the USS Fitzgerald crossed in front of it from the left around 1:30 a.m. on June 17 south of Tokyo, the captain said, according to the person, in an account U.S. investigators contest.

“The Crystal turned right to prevent the crash, but it was too late,” the person cited the captain’s report as saying. 

The description of the account from Crystal captain Ronald Advincula to investigators is the first available direct testimony from either crew of the incident, which killed seven U.S. sailors. Mr. Advincula couldn’t be reached for comment. It wasn’t clear from the account of his testimony whether the captain was saying he was on the bridge of the vessel at the time. 

In response to the account, U.S. military officials said there had been no communication between the two ships before the collision and the cargo ship’s loud collision alarm never sounded. They raised questions particularly about the commercial ship captain’s reported contention that his ship tried to signal the warship for at least 10 minutes before hitting it.


Heavy damage is pictured on the US Navy missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald after it collided with a cargo ship near Japan early on Saturday morning. AP & Reuters photos from the Daily Mail
 
The officials said they were perplexed by the reported statement from the Crystal’s captain. Tracking data indicates that the cargo ship continued sailing on essentially the same course for about another 30 minutes before turning around and returning to the position where the collision occurred. 

“We think the timing and the substance is a little odd,” an official said of the report. “This is all what the investigations will uncover.”

Navy officials have said they aim to complete initial assessments of what happened by the end of the summer.

Along with the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard, Japanese Coast Guard and Japan Transport Safety Board are investigating the incident. 

Representatives for all have said they won’t comment or speculate on the cause of the collision.
A spokesman for Nippon Yusen K.K., which chartered the Crystal during the recent journey, declined to comment.

The reported account from Mr. Advincula is consistent with speculation from some former captains of commercial and military ships who have said the Fitzgerald may have breached a maritime regulation of giving way to other ships approaching on the starboard, or right, side.

Other experts say there may have been other complicating factors, including insufficient crew on watch on either or both ships and the density of ship traffic in the region where the incident occurred.

Andrew Kinsey, a captain who spent 23 years in the U.S. Merchant Marine and Naval Reserve, described the area around the crash site as one of the world’s most densely used shipping lanes. He said coordination between commercial and military vessels is made harder because Navy vessels don’t transmit information to other ships about their location.

Around 400 vessels a day pass through the region where the collision took place, around 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, according to the Japanese Coast Guard.

Hajime Yamamoto, a navigation safety officer in the Japanese Coast Guard, said the region where the collision occurred is busiest between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. because cargo ships aim to arrive in nearby Tokyo Bay for unloading early in the morning.

Between 2007 and 2016, 30 collisions occurred in the region, he said, including the collision of two cargo ships in September 2013 that killed six sailors.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Seventh Fleet will hold a memorial service in its home port of Yokosuka for the seven sailors who died in a sleeping cabin after the Crystal rammed the Fitzgerald. The collision is one of the worst incidents in recent U.S. Navy history.

The 20 Filipino crew members of the Crystal were unharmed.

Details of Mr. Advincula’s report on the collision were first reported by Reuters.

Write to Costas Paris at costas.paris@wsj.com, Alastair Gale at alastair.gale@wsj.com and Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

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