WASHINGTON: A pair of collisions in the Pacific that left American 17 sailors dead were avoidable and caused by "multiple failures" of those on watch, the Navy said in a report Wednesday.
The separate incidents have highlighted leadership failures and the stresses of frequent deployments across the Pacific region, but also have shone a spotlight on sailors not paying proper attention in busy shipping lanes.
"Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watchstanders that contributed to the incidents," Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said in the report.
"We must do better," he added.
On June 17, the USS Fitzgerald -- a destroyer -- smashed into a Philippine-flagged cargo ship off Japan, leaving seven sailors dead and leading to several officers being disciplined.
The collision was "avoidable and resulted from an accumulation of smaller errors over time," the report states, resulting in "a lack of adherence to sound navigational practices."
"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."
The commanding officer, executive officer and senior enlisted sailor aboard the Fitzgerald have all been relieved of their duties.
The second deadly incident came August 21 when the USS John S. McCain collided with the Alnic MC merchant tanker as the destroyer headed to Singapore, tearing a huge hole in the hull, killing 10 sailors and injuring dozens more.
"The collision between John S. McCain and Alnic MC was also avoidable and resulted primarily from complacency, over-confidence and lack of procedural compliance," the report states.
"A major contributing factor to the collision was sub-standard level of knowledge regarding the operation of the ship control console," the report adds.
Investigators single out the ship's commanding officer, who "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."
In other words, the report says, no one on the ship's bridge knew how to correctly operate the ship's controls.
It took seven days to recover the sailors' bodies from the wreckage.
An earlier review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that crews are being overworked and undertrained, just as vital maintenance is not being completed on time.
Problems are particularly apparent in vessels ported in Japan, home to the Navy's Seventh Fleet, from where ships sail from Yokosuka and Sasebo on vital operational missions in the South China Sea and off the Korean Peninsula.
After the two incidents, the Navy sacked its Seventh Fleet commander, Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin.