USS Fitzgerald collision deaths ruled negligent homicide by Japanese Coast Guard

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Enlarge / The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) returns to Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka following a collision with a merchant vessel while operating southwest of Yokosuka, Japan in June, 2017.

collision of the USS Fitzgerald, one of the members of the ship's crew now faces possible criminal charges in Japan as the result of a Japanese Coast Guard investigation of the incident. Stars & Stripes reported today that Japanese Coast Guard officials have recommended negligent homicide charges against both the Fitzgerald's Officer of the Deck (OOD) and the second officer of the container ship the Fitzgerald struck—the ACX Crystal.

Japan Coast Guard spokesman Yoshihito Nakamura said that the official recommended charges were "Causing Death and Injury through Negligence in the Pursuit of Social Activities and Endangering Traffic through Negligence in the Pursuit of Social Activities." He said the charges had been recommended because both officers were responsible for the navigation of their ships at the time of the collision. While the ACX Crystal was operating in accordance with Preventing Collisions at Sea regulations—known to sailors as the "Rules of the Road"—the ACX Crystal's 2nd officer failed to take any actions to avoid the collision.

In the Navy's report on the June 2017 collision, issued along with findings from the August 2017 collision of the USS McCain last November, the Navy found:

The Officer of the Deck and bridge team failed to comply with the International Rules of the Nautical Road. Specifically:

FITZGERALD was not operated at a safe speed appropriate to the number of other ships in the immediate vicinity.

FITZGERALD failed to maneuver early as required with risk of collision present.

FITZGERALD failed to notify other ships of danger and to take proper action in extremis.

It's not clear if charges will be formally filed. The recommendation did not name the officers responsible. The US Navy refused to give the name of the Fitzgerald's OOD, and the Japanese Coast Guard has declined to release the name of the 2nd officer of the ACX Crystal as a matter of fairness. But under the United States' status of forces agreement with Japan, US military personnel fall under the jurisdiction of Japanese law enforcement while operating in Japan's territory. And a US Forces Japan spokesperson told Stars and Stripes that the military is aware that Japanese officials intend to go forward with some form of legal action.

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