Monday, January 14, 2019

The Fort Report on the FITZGERALD Collision

Navy Times reporter Geoff Ziezulewicz got hold of the internal report overseen by Rear Adm. Brian Fort, USN completed 11 days after the collision between the USS FITZGERALD (DDG 62) and a merchant ship on June 17, 2017.

For those who have been keeping track and suspected a systemic failure, nothing will seem out of bounds. If you were thinking this was just a string of bad luck, you're going to be shocked. From Millington to the bridge of FITZ; from C7F to the Chief's Mess; from PACFLT to the wardroom - the Fort Report brings out everything in a bit more detail.

Read the whole thing, but good googly moogly. As Geoff says in his article, it is even worse than you thought;
...routine, almost casual, violations of standing orders on a Fitz bridge that often lacked skippers and executive officers, even during potentially dangerous voyages at night through busy waterways.

The probe exposes how personal distrust led the officer of the deck, Lt. j.g. Sarah Coppock, to avoid communicating with the destroyer’s electronic nerve center — the combat information center, or CIC — while the Fitzgerald tried to cross a shipping superhighway.
I would like more details on this nugget from a human factors point of view. What was the beef with LT Natalie Combs? How many knew of this personal conflict?

Anyway - back to the nightmare;
When Fort walked into the trash-strewn CIC in the wake of the disaster, he was hit with the acrid smell of urine. He saw kettlebells on the floor and bottles filled with pee. Some radar controls didn’t work and he soon discovered crew members who didn’t know how to use them anyway.
Since 2015, the Fitz had lacked a quartermaster chief petty officer, ...
When Fort arrived at her (LT Natalie Combs) CIC desk, he found a stack of abandoned paperwork: “She was most likely consumed and distracted by a review of Operations Department paperwork for the three and a half hours of her watch prior to the collision,” Fort wrote.
“Procedural compliance by Bridge watchstanders is not the norm onboard FTZ, as evidenced by numerous, almost routine, violations of the CO’s standing orders,” not to mention radio transmissions laced with profanity and “unprofessional humor,” Fort found.
About three weeks after the ACX Crystal disaster, Fort’s investigators sprang a rules of the road pop quiz on Fitz’s officers.

It didn’t go well. The 22 who took the test averaged a score of 59 percent, Fort wrote.

“Only 3 of 22 Officers achieved a score over 80%,” he added, with seven officers scoring below 50 percent.

The same exam was administered to the wardroom of another unnamed destroyer as a control group, and those officers scored similarly dismal marks.

The XO Babbitt, Coppock and two other officers refused to take the test, according to the report.
As always in such circumstances, we need to remember where this all led. In the end our Sailors Xavier Martin, Dakota Rigsby, Shingo Douglass, Tan Huynh, Noe Hernandez, Carlos Sibayan and Gary Rehm drowned to death.

This whole process needs more, not less, transparency.

UPDATE: Check out Part II, III, and IV.

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