The Fitzgerald was underway about fifty-six nautical miles from her homeport of Yokosuka, Japan at the time of the accident. It is a heavily trafficked area since it is in the lane for huge merchant container vessels approaching and departing Japan, along with heavy military presence in the area. And some of the heaviest traffic is during nighttime as the ships seek to reach their next port of call early in the morning each day. The weather was good, the seas were calm and the stars were shining. So what in the world happened to cause the accident in good weather, with the excellent navigational and identification devises available on board a modern American warship.
The Navy has already started its investigation which will be detailed and thorough with a board of inquiry. But early reports reveal several strange happenings that should be very noteworthy. First of all, the accident is now estimated to have taken place at 1:30 a.m. local Japan time, yet the merchant ship didn't send a radio signal for another fifty minutes. Judging from the damage to the Fitzgerald, with the ship taking on water heavily and men trying to scramble above deck to save their lives, time was of the essence and reports further indicate that the sailors had to work diligently to avoid sinking, the water was coming in so fast. And her radio room was taken out in the crash.
And then there's the size difference of the two ships and the courses they were following. The Fitzgerald carries approximately nine thousand tons and is just over five hundred feet long. By comparison the ACX Crystal, the container ship, carried twenty-nine thousand tons and was over seven hundred feet long. The larger ship apparently made an unexpected U-turn at sea several hours earlier which put her on a course directly for the Fitzgerald and the ultimate crash into here starboard side. The large ship received some dents to the bow but nothing to make her unseaworthy while the Fitzgerald was crushed. But, the again, a large container ship, fully loaded, reportedly going at rather high speed and the time of the collision with a thin hulled destroyer would likely cause horrible damage.
So why did the ACX Crystal change course as it did and approach the Fitzgerald at high speed and why did no one on the Fitzgerald have any advance idea that she was being approached rapidly? And why was the much quicker and more maneuverable destroyer unable to rapidly adjust course to avoid the collision? And what about the right of way issue, since the ship hitting her would have been on her right? We'll just have to wait for the investigators to complete their interviews, review the ship damage and reach a conclusion. But, unfortunately, we have seven Americans dead and others injured and that can't be changed.
In the meantime we can pray for a quick recovery of Commander Bryce Benson, skipper of the Fitzgerald and others injured and pray for the souls of the seven sailors who died as a result of the crash. May God be with their loved ones as they mourn their losses. Let's pray that whatever happened to cause the collision can be determined so that more tragic situations such as this never happen again.