Rushed maintenance and training lead to Navy collisions

FILE- This June 17, 2017 file photo shows the damaged USS Fitzgerald near the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo. The Navy says the commanding officer of a warship that lost seven sailors in a collision off the coast of Japan will be relieved of command, and nearly a dozen other sailors face punishment. Adm. William Moran, the No. 2 Navy officer, told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday, Aug. 17, that the actions are to be taken shortly, although the Navy’s investigation into how and why the USS Fitzgerald collided with the container ship in June has not yet been completed. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

AP

FILE- This June 17, 2017 file photo shows the damaged USS Fitzgerald near the U.S. Naval base in Yokosuka, southwest of Tokyo. The Navy says the commanding officer of a warship that lost seven sailors in a collision off the coast of Japan will be relieved of command, and nearly a dozen other sailors face punishment. Adm. William Moran, the No. 2 Navy officer, told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday, Aug. 17, that the actions are to be taken shortly, although the Navy’s investigation into how and why the USS Fitzgerald collided with the container ship in June has not yet been completed. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)

John Brenalvirez, Staff writer

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This summer has been deadly for the United States Navy. Over a dozen sailors have died and four navy ships have been damaged in the past three months. But this was not due to any sort of enemy attack but a more curious cause: merchant ships, specifically, collisions between merchant ships and the USS John S. McCain, USS Fitzgerald, USS Champlain, and the USS Antietam in the Pacific Ocean.

But the cause of these collisions has been unknown until Navy officials reported to congressional hearings in early September. According to an article on cnn.com, at this hearing, Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Bill Moran and Navy Director of Surface Warfare Rear Admiral Ronald Boxall expressed surprise at these events. Adm. Moran conceded that the Navy was fighting problems with deployment and supply and demand, with too few ships to patrol the world that are constantly being sent on the move, overworking their crews. Adm. Moran also stated that recruiting standards had gone down as demand for more sailors increased. Rear Adm. Boxall stated that he incorrectly assumed “that the men who were stationed on ships that were constantly on the move would be the best trained.”

Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin of the 7th Fleet (the fleet to which all four ships that crashed belonged), contradicted these two statements, saying that the crew of the ships were not overworked and did not look exhausted to him, according to an article on nytimes.com. With such conflicting reports and contradictory statements, it is no surprise that few answers came out of the congressional hearing.

The collisions began at the beginning of this year in January, when the USS Antietam ran aground in Japan and spilled oil all over the coast. The next collision was in May when a South Korean fishing ship hit the USS Lake Champlain. According to an article by Joe Sterling on cnn.com, the Korean sailors said their ship did not have a radio and thus could not receive any warnings from the Lake Champlain. The third accident happened in June off the coast of Japan when the USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship. The accident caused seven U.S. sailors to drown. The final accident occurred in late August when the USS John S. McCain crashed into an oil tanker east of Singapore. This collision caused the deaths of 10 more U.S. sailors. Altogether, the four collisions caused the deaths of 17 U.S. sailors.

The reasons for the collisions are unknown (with the exception of the USS Lake Champlain), but looking at the Navy’s actions when it came to training sailors and the high demand for U.S. ships around the world, the truth begins to look clearer. According to a report by the New York Times, the Navy knowingly allowed its officers to continue their patrols around the world, even though maintenance and training standards were poor. Ships that had been in service for several decades were in poor shape, with the Navy approving their continued usage as long as “temporary” fixes were put into place. 37 percent of the ships in the 7th Fleet were deemed ill-suited for sailing. Overworking seems to a problem in the 7th Fleet as well, as it is the Navy’s biggest fleet, with 70 ships and 20,000 sailors. The number of deployed Navy ships overseas has doubled since 2006. Yet the number of Navy ships in service has decreased by 20 percent in the past 20 years. There is a huge demand for ships around the world but no supply.

Training standards have also gone down according to an NPR interview with Navy Officer Bryan McGrath, retired Navy Captain Kevin Eyer and retired Vice Admiral Peter Daly. According to the three, training standards for Navy recruits have gone down drastically since the 1980s. McGrath told NPR that he was in basic training for over a year when he enlisted 30 years ago. Now, soldiers are apparently shipped off and are taught as they go. Officers were given CD’s in the early 2000s to train their sailors- online training for the world’s largest Navy. With this teach-as-you-go system in place, and even with the CD’s, officers rarely had the time to instruct their recruits on even the most basic of maritime functions.

Eyer agreed with McGrath. He said in the same NPR interview, “The root cause of the problem is training. It will take years to fix the problem.” McGrath, Eyer, Daly and many other officers suspect that the lack of training for their recruits was due to the Navy trying to save money. In 2010 the head of the Atlantic Fleet Admiral John Harvey told Congress the problems with the new training system. Congress has increased training time for new recruits, but it appears that the standards aren’t what they used to be and that the damage has been done.

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Rushed maintenance and training lead to Navy collisions