USS John McCain Credit US navy web.jpg. Caption: Damage on USS Fitzgerald caused from collision with container ACX Crystal. Credit: US Navy
In a rare move, the US Navy has charged five officers with negligent homicide for their roles in two fatal collisions in the Pacific Ocean with merchant navy vessels, which could see them imprisoned for up to three years. The officers will also face charges including dereliction of duty and hazarding a vessel.
In June, USS Fitzgerald collided with 29,060 gt Philippine-registered box ship ACX Crystal and in August USS John S McCain and 50,760 dwt tanker Alnic MC collided. The two incidents resulted in 17 deaths. Experts and US Navy officials reportedly said in response to the news that convictions of negligent homicide were very rare, and were unable to point to another naval incident where such charges were brought against naval officers.
Former Captain of the USS Fitzgerald, Commander Bryce Bensons, and former captain of the USS John S McCain, Commander Alfredo J Sanchez, are among those who face the charges, along with three officers that were aboard the Fitzgerald, including two lieutenants and one lieutenant junior grade. Evidence supporting the charges will be heard soon, according to a statement from the US Navy, but it stressed that “The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses.”
The Navy has also dismissed some high-ranking officers, including the commander of the fleet involved in both collisions, and said it is also carrying out “administrative actions including non-judicial punishment” for crewmembers on each vessel.