Mayday: Navy study finds ‘concerns’ with most officers’ seamanship skills

by WorldTribune Staff, June 17, 2018

An internal review conducted by the U.S. Navy following two deadly collisions last year found that only a small number of junior officers fully passed competency checks, a report said.

Seven U.S. sailors died after the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship south of Tokyo Bay in Japan.

The review, written by Vice Adm. Richard Brown, commander of Naval Surface Force Pacific, identified concerns with 137 of 164 junior officers who were randomly tested. The review found “some concerns” with 108 and “significant concerns” with the seamanship skills of 29, The Washington Times, which obtained the review, reported.

In June 2017, seven U.S. sailors were killed when the destroyer USS Fitzgerald struck a container ship off the coast of Japan.

In August 2017, 10 U.S. sailors died when the USS John S. McCain collided with a Liberian-flagged merchant ship off the coast of Singapore.

The Navy concluded in the review that both collisions were avoidable and stemmed from failures of leadership aboard both vessels, the Washington Times report said.

Specifically, the review found issues with officers’ operation of radar and their ability to apply naval “rules of the road,” especially during times of low visibility, the report said.

Navy officials said the tests, which were conducted by the Surface Warfare Officers School from January through March, “confirmed a need for improvement, but they expressed overall confidence in the officers steering U.S. vessels,” the report said.

“So, out of 164 what we ended up seeing was kind of what we expected: We got a bell curve distribution. We had 27 who were on top, we had 108 who were in the middle and we had 29 who were kind of at the lower end,” Adm. Brown told Defense News. “We want to make sure the changes we are making are actually having an impact in the fleet and if we are increasing the level of experience and performance. … We want to move that bell curve to the right.”

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Roger Wicker of Mississippi are sponsoring the Surface Warfare Enhancement Act which would set “minimum at-sea and simulator-based training requirements to qualify for critical positions on the ships.”

“In the wake of the tragic accidents involving the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain, our commanders and sailors have been calling for meaningful reform,” Wicker said. “Overextended and undermanned ships, overworked crews, fewer officers with naval mastery and confusing chains of command have contributed to a decline in our naval power.”

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