Fitzgerald- Crystal Collision COLREGS REVISIT

Over two months after the incident, US Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler, Navy Chief of Information, is on the usual  bureaucratic posting at the Navy’s official Twitter: “It is premature to speculate on causation or any other issues” as the Navy and US interest are yet to develop a comprehensive picture of the collision.

He further sugarcoats an obligation with magnanimity: “Once we have a detailed understanding of the facts and circumstances, we will share those findings with the Fitzgerald families, our Congressional oversight committees and the general public.”

USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), an Arleigh Burke-class (Flight I) guided missile destroyer, part of the US 7th Fleet forward-deployed in the Pacific. It has 71 tenant commands, about 26,000 military and civilian personnel.

The warship collided with ACX Crystal, carrying 1,080 containers on June 17 (01:30-Japan, 12:30-Philippine time). This was near Shizuoka, Japan, about 56 nautical miles (104 kilometres; 64 miles) south of the Yokosuka Japanese and US naval bases at the entrance of Tokyo Bay. This is nearby the Izu peninsula known for maritime accidents with ships steaming to reach Tokyo by daybreak.


Seven US navy sailors died:

  • Gunner Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19, of Palmyra, Virginia
  • Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, of San Diego, California
  • Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T Truong Huynh, 25, of Oakville, Connecticut
  • Gunner Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26, of Weslaco, Texas
  • Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, of Chula Vista, California
  • Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, of Halethorpe, Maryland
  • Fire Controlman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37, of Elyria, Ohio

Media report Cmdr. Bryce Benson’s cabin was crushed by the impact, sending him hanging outside the vessel superstructure. Two other sailors were injured; Benson was relieved of duty and sent to the hospital.

In contrast, all the 20 Filipino crew of ACX Crystal were not injured. Minor damage was on the merchant ship’s port bow and bulbous bow. The Fitzgerald suffered severe damage to her starboard side superstructure and starboard side below the waterline.

ACX Crystal is owned by Dainichi-Invest Corporation, a Japanese ship investment firm. The ship has been bareboat-chartered to Sinbanali Shipping and managed by Sea Quest Ship Management in Manila. In June 2017, ACX Crystal was employed by NYK on its ‘PX1’ (Phoenix 1) intra-Asia trade line linking Japan, Vietnam and Thailand ports.

As common in the container shipping industry, the ship cargo capacity is shared by NYK with other lines such as Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, K Lines.


The Maritime Industry Authority (MARINA) and the Sinbanali Shipping crew confirmed they are finished with investigations, but just on the part of ACX Crystal. Both refuse to release the copy of the report wary this may be one-sided as they still await data from the US Navy.

Sinbanali Port Captain Fredie Perez and one from Sea Quest Ship Management boarded the ACX Crystal and interviewed their crew. A panel from MARINA followed last June composed of Jeffrey Bangsa, head of Enforcement Service; Reinier Pascual, Investigator and Capt Renante Ladines, Chairman of the Board of Marine Deck officers.

The MARINA panel was blocked from entering the Fitzgerald, US Navy officers claiming sovereignty given to warships by international law. Bangsa et al submitted their report to the MARINA Administrator early July, facts solely from ACX Crystal being Philippine-flagged.

Doing well.

Perez says things are business as-usual for ACX Crystal: her captain home so are those whose contracts are finished, the vessel dry-docked for maintenance and on operations again.

Perez clarifies they have to wait for the US version for objective and balanced reporting, not based on hearsays nor agitations. To prematurely release the MARINA side sans those of the US may exacerbate things, further stirring confusion. Simply stated, Capt. Perez wants to be fair: two parties are involved so two parties must input. (Even the Japanese Coast Guard report is pending waiting for the report of the US.)

After fulfilling visa formalities, the Philippine panel was complete and able confer June 22nd with the Japan Coast Guard, Japan Transport, US Coast Guard for ways and means to board the warship Fitzgerald.

Ladines explains they are not criminal investigators but limited to conduct a marine casualty investigation. They are not to blame nor judge on any error but just on fact-finding to avoid replication, plus mutual sharing of information with all the parties involved.


The protocol on releases of information is very rigid. The panel has submitted its report to Deputy Administrator-Operations Alfredo Vidal who passed it to the Administrator. Being an attached agency, MARINA must forward its report to the Secretary of the Dept. of Transportation, through channels. In turn, DOTr must abide by the Dept. of Foreign Affairs as the incident has diplomatic implications being in between three States, on foreign waters, involving a craft with recognized sovereignty.

As gathered by the Philippine panel, the incident occurred midnight, 1:30am Japan time, an hour ahead of RP time. This is from ECDIS, recording VDR voice data, radar, and allied operational data similar to the “black box” on airplanes.

Data seen or recorder could be contestable; hence, parties involved may conduct independent investigations, shared mutually for an objective synthesis. This is the ideal but the pragmatic reality is that States will protect its interest and those of its nationals. More so when lawsuits are filed, evidences presented from the investigations (with parties culling only data favorable).

Perhaps, the US Report may be forced into open should the survivors of the casualties file claims against the US Navy and its Government. It may be an intra-US litigation, Filipinos uninvolved having no injuries (except for ACX Crystal).

The irony is that even Filipino nationals and media cannot access to the Philippine report, officials are all mum guarding on protocols and career. Meantime, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard (on behalf of the National Transportation Safety Board), Japan Coast Guard, MARINA are conducting simultaneous investigations. In fact, the US Navy has two parallel investigations running, including a legal inquiry by the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG).

Hanging, too.

The Associated Press reports on July 24 that Japanese authorities said they were almost finished with their investigation but still haven’t been given access to data from the U.S. side. The ACX Crystal, and most of its crew, were allowed to leave Japan for Thailand after repairs were finished.

Yoshinori Fukushima, spokesman for the owner of the freighter, said the captain and some crew members had stayed behind voluntarily for additional questioning.

The crash occurred on June 17 south of Tokyo off the Izu peninsula, within Japanese territorial waters. But the U.S. military holds the right to investigate its naval vessel and has not cooperated with Japan invoking the bilateral status of forces agreement.

Japanese coast guard officials said that they were still discussing possible cooperation with the U.S. side, but that nothing concrete has been decided and they could not say when a conclusion was expected.

A team of experts at the Japan Transport Safety Board is also investigating the cause of the accident. Board spokesman Katsunori Takahashi has said officials may have to compile a report of what caused the accident only with what information they have. There have been past cases in which the U.S. never cooperated, he said.

The USS Fitzgerald, by far the smaller vessel, was carrying nearly 300 crew members when the ships collided. Severe damage to the right side and bottom of the guided missile destroyer flooded the berths of 116 sailors. Navy divers found the bodies of seven sailors in the ship after it returned to the naval base at Yokosuka, near Tokyo.


Some public posts on the Internet:

* Maslow Mama‏ @MaslowMama: US declined to help investigation, because we know it was our ships error. Will we ever learn to be honest and humble?

* Lan Huynh‏ @lan__tea: I can’t wait for the answers that we, the Fitz7 family, have been waiting for. No, we will not go gentle into that good night.

* @dickiewood: Well, that’s surprising…I hope that they settle (generously) with the families promptly.

* Richard Rodriguez @CaptRodriguez: Most here will realize that both parties will be found responsible. Contributory negligence is an important concept.

* Carol Caprio: Who cares what the container ship was or wasn’t doing!!! How in the world can a high tech US Warship, with the most sophisticated radar systems available, not avoid a 730′ container ship plodding along at 12-15 knots??!! Alarm bells should go off when any ship is within 2 miles of a warship.. at that distance, it would take the container ship about 10 minutes to reach the Fitz… plenty of time to accelerate or steer clear! I suspect gross incompetence of the Fitz’s night shift crew!!!

* Liberty88: The sailors/technology aboard the Fitzgerald are trained to see a mosquito on a girl’s buttocks 100 miles away. They couldn’t see a container ship 3 times the size of the Fitzgerald?!

A couple of thoughts –

1. Did the container ship have some kind of Chinese technology that disabled the Fitzgerald so that they could turn around and ram the warship?

2. Was the Fitzgerald deliberately getting in the way of container ship to engage another war?

3. Why is it that the military declines comment except to say that the other ship was on autopilot – does this mean that the military was on auto-stupid?

4. The ACX Crystal came from the Philippines which so happens to be embroiled in a huge ISIS battle – funded by the CIA. Is this their means of getting back at the US military for its voyeurism?

No way.

International media organizations, like CNN and Reuters citing anonymous sources, pinpoints USS Fitzgerald was at fault. But as of our press time, all three States (US, Japan and the Philippines) have neither denied nor confirmed who is at fault. 

Former destroyer commanding officer Joe Bouchard says on 13News, “It mystifies me why they weren’t able to avoid collision…Their lookouts should’ve seen it, large merchant ship. Merchant ships tend to have lights all over them, very large radar signature, and the Fitzgerald is much more maneuverable.”

ACX Crystal, is 222.6 metres (730 ft) long overall, a beam of 30.1 metres (99 ft) and fully laden draws 12 metres (39 ft) of water. She has a container capacity of 2,858 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU), gross tonnage of 29,060, net of 14,422 and deadweight of 39,565 tons.

Collision Regulations.

Rule 5 (Look-out) provides every vessel shall at all times maintain a proper look-out by sight and hearing as well as by all available means appropriate in the prevailing circumstances and conditions so as to make a full appraisal of the situation and or the risk of collision.

Filipino maritime experts, veteran navy officers and government officials are unanimous but refuse to be named so as not to preempt the investigation, and the usual caviat on their positions and career.

A retired navy officer says, “When there is a collision both of the ships are at fault. Why? There should be no collision, why did they collide? There is such thing as law of prudence.

He refers to the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972, also known as “COLREGs”, “Rules of the Road” or “RoR”, prescribing rules to be followed by vessels at sea to prevent collisions.


Rule 2 (Responsibility):

(a) Nothing exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master or crew thereof, any neglect to comply as required by the ordinary practice of seamen nor by the special circumstances

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

Rule 7 (Risk of collision):

(a) Every vessel shall use all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances  to determine if risk of collision exists, even with doubt such risk exist.

(b) Use radar equipment, including long-range scanning to obtain early warning of risk of collision and radar plotting or equivalent systematic observations of detected objects.

(c) Do not assume based on scanty information, especially scanty radar information.

(d) Factor these in determining risk of collision:

(i) If the compass bearing of an approaching vessel does not appreciably change

(ii) When an appreciable bearing change is evident, particularly when approaching a very large vessel or a tow or when at close range.

And more.

He gives parallel examples: You can only have port-to-port if the road is wide. If it is EDSA, yes you can have your keep as there is a drawn lane, None drawn In Tokyo Bay, just as in Manila Bay which is bigger than Tokyo Bay. There are so many ships but if you want to pass red-to- red, is there no danger on the other side.

What is unknown is a container ship is huge and draws water when in replenishment at sea. It is not prudent to be besides as the volume will suck you to the point of breaking you up.

A former navy officer and a shipbuilder says If one sees a red light, he is the burden vessel which must evade, business vessels normally by honking or radar blimps. A US Navy ship has the speed, maneuverable — so much crew and cutting-edge technology. Big ships has no shift gears, backing down is just by reversing the engine (not literally turning around) and stops a kilometer more than the usual three kilometers.

ACX Crystal main engine, manufactured by STX, is an 8-cylinder MAN B&W 8K80MC-C low-speed diesel engine with a maximum continuous rating of 28,880 kW (38,730 hp), giving ACX Crystal a maximum speed of 25.3 knots (46.9 km/h; 29.1 mph), a service speed of 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph).

National Coast Watch Council Secretariat U/Sec Jose Luis Alano empathizes with parties to the accident, that no want wants it to happen. And since investigations are on-going, he keeps on objective silence rather than spewing perspective not backed by data nor facts.            

Becoming habit.

The collision seems to portent a lackadaisical attitude of US Navy on patrol on international waters, armed with the latest of technology but forbidden to wage wars. This seems to gnaw on macho ego; like, so much muscle ordered to just pedicure.

A former navy official, echoed by mass media security publications, thinks the Fitzgerald incident shows “they had failed to follow standard navigation procedures.” Again.

The United States has paid nearly $2 million compensation to the Philippines for damage to 25,240 square feet of coral reef that would take a generation to grow back. The USS Guardian minesweeper, a 224-foot warship, had to be cut to pieces to avoid further damage to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in a salvage operation of 10 weeks costing roughly $25 million.

The 79 crew members were evacuated after the ship’s hull was punctured. No one was injured.

Washington promptly apologized and issued a report five months later blaming four members of the crew. The US Navy’s Pacific Fleet relieved the four, who included the commanding officer, after it was discovered they have failed to follow standard navigation procedures.

The incident stirred nationalist anger against the United States, a former colonial ruler of the Philippines that remains the Southeast Asian nation’s most important military ally.

The USS Guardian, en route to Indonesia after visiting a northern Philippine port, sailed into a protected area where vessels are not allowed due to ‘poor voyage planning’.