The USS Fitzgerald Collision and the Maritime “Rules of the Road”

I have been looking through the articles on the USS Fitzgerald collision. I can’t find anything about the conditions leading up to the collision.

It may sound odd to you landlubbers, but there are “rules of the road” on the water. They are meant to avoid exactly this kind of thing. COLREGS – International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972

Suffice it to say, that someone is responsible. It may be the case that both captains are responsible. (There isn’t always a vessel that has the “Right of way.”)

Rule 2
Responsibility

(a) Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.

(b) In construing and complying with these Rules due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from these Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger

There is – especially among sailors (on sailboats) I’m sorry to say – the idea that some vessels have the “right of way.” While in some cases it may be that one boat is the “Stand on” vessel, and one the “Give way” vessel, in all situations, the skippers of both vessels have a duty to do everything to avoid a collision. The “limitations” of your average commercial container vessel, is that they don’t maneuver very well. It is best to stay the hell out of their way. Somebody failed to do something in this case. (See Rule 17 in the referenced document.)

It is hard to tell exactly what happened because reporters apparently know less about boats than they do about guns. But the bulk of the damage on the Fitzgerald SEEMS to be on the starboard side of the vessel. Though there is also damage on the port bow. If the initial collision hit the Fitzgerald on its own starboard side, that would imply that the US naval vessel was the “give way” vessel.

Rule 15
Crossing situation

When two power-driven vessels are crossing so as to involve risk of collision, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way and shall, if the circumstances of the case admit, avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel.

Inquiries will go on for months, unless I miss my guess.

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5 thoughts on “The USS Fitzgerald Collision and the Maritime “Rules of the Road”

  1. While I won’t cast aspersions on the US Navy ahead of all the facts, Navies the world over generally don’t like to “yield” to anyone, because macho idiots will be macho idiots. But it is hard for me to believe that a warship of the United States Navy doesn’t have the best radar in the world, and the best trained sailors.

    If we are falling down on either of those 2 things in relation to a commercial ship, then some heads need to roll somewhere.

    I just hope it doesn’t turn out that one of our macho idiots killed 7 people proving how big an idiot he really is.

  2. I ran across the stats on the cargo ship and the destroyer, and the cargo ship was over 3x the tonnage of the destroyer. Something like 29.9 tons to 8.5 tons.

    Cargo ships that size aren’t going to stop on a dime, but neither are aircraft carrier groups. And as you say, the Navy should have the most modern anti-collision systems and radars that there are. The destroyer should have been much more maneuverable and nimble than the cargo ship. It’s what destroyers do.

    Denninger has some updates on this from Ars Technica, and it shows some very unusual maneuvers from the cargo ship immediately prior to the collision.

    Strange story that is getting stranger.

    • It isn’t just the tonnage. Cargo ships are notoriously under-powered, and not very maneuverable. They accelerate slowly (or stop slowly) to their designed speed and then travel in straight lines, or long looping curves. The only thing worse than cargo ships (from a small-boat sailor’s POV) is a tug with a large barge under tow. (The hawsers are usually just a few feet under the water, and can take a small boat in half.)

      According to the Wiki, the propulsion for DDG 62 is EXTREME.

      4 General Electric LM2500-30 gas turbines, two shafts, 100,000 total shaft horsepower (75 MW)

      Those are usually coupled to a reversing-pitch propeller, but it doesn’t say. (Oh and the DDG 62 homepage is ignoring the story, which I guess isn’t surprising.)

      No way that it shouldn’t be able to get out of the path of a civilian cargo ship.

      I did see that the cargo ship made a 180 degree turn before the collision, but that may be another indication that it was having some difficulty and trying to get back to port.

  3. YOKOSUKA, Japan (NNS) — The remains of seven Sailors previously reported missing were located in flooded berthing compartments, after divers gained access to the spaces, June 18, that were damaged when USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) was involved in a collision with the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel ACX Crystal.

    The deceased are:

    – Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, from Palmyra, Virginia

    – Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, California

    – Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, from Oakville, Connecticut

    – Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Texas

    – Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, California

    – Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, from Halethorpe, Maryland

    – Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, from Elyria, Ohio

    The incident is currently under investigation.

    Source: U.S. Navy Identifies 7 Deceased Fitzgerald Sailors

  4. Pingback: gCaptain: The USS Fitzgerald Is At Fault | 357 Magnum

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