- The Fitzgerald, damaged in a collision this summer, was scheduled to return to the US for repairs aboard a commercial heavy-lift vessel.
- But the Fitzgerald sustained more damage while being loaded on to the transport vessel.
- It will take several days to repair the new damage before the USS Fitzgerald can be loaded again for its trip home.
The USS Fitzgerald, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer crippled in a collision this summer, was damaged again this month as it was loaded on to a heavy-lift vessel that was supposed to take it to the US for repairs.
The Fitzgerald was towed back to Japan after colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant ship in mid-June. Once at the 7th Fleet’s base in Yokosuka, engineers patched the hole that was ripped below the warship’s waterline, but it was still unable to sail under its own power.
The Fitzgerald was towed into deep water on Friday in order to be loaded on the MV Transshelf, the heavy-lift vessel that would carry it back to a Huntington Ignalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. However, the warship sustained two new punctures in its hull from the steel support structure on the Transshelf, the Navy said Monday, according to Stars and Stripes.
A heavy-lift vessel transports other ships by filling ballast tanks to submerge its main deck, allowing the cargo to be floated on board. Once secured, the heavy-lift vessel sheds its ballast and sails under its own power. At its destination, the heavy-lift ship reverses the process, allowing the cargo to float off.
The Navy estimated it would take several days to do the repairs necessary before the Fitzgerald could link up with the Transshelf for the loading process, which will itself take several days.
The Navy hired a commercial heavy-lift vessel to transport the Fitzgerald to the US for repair. (The same kind of ship was used to transport the damaged USS John S. McCain from Singapore to Japan after it collided with another ship.) Seventh Fleet officials said in August that the Fitzgerald could be transferred to the US as soon as September, though the damaged destroyer has yet to leave Japan.
The Navy decided to move the ship back to the US to free up space in Yokosuka so other ships from the fleet could undergo repairs.
“We could do it” in Japan, 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Clay Doss told Stars and Stripes. “It’s just more cost effective and safer to go through the heavy-lift route.”
The June 17 collision between the Fitzgerald and a merchant ship sailing under the Philippine flag killed seven US sailors and injured three others. Two of the Fitzgerald’s senior officers and a senior enlisted sailor were relieved by the Navy after the incident. Several officer and enlisted watch-standers were also held responsible.
Only about 50 of the Fitzgerald’s 300-man crew will accompany the ship during its return to the US. The others will have opportunity to join other commands in Japan, “based on available billets, individual crew desires and the needs of the Navy,” Doss told Stars and Stripes, adding that some sailors requested reassignment to locations outside Japan.
The Fitzgerald collision was one of four incidents involving US Navy ships in less than a year, two of which led to fatalities. The spate of accidents led to concerns about cyberattacks on US ships or on transportation infrastructure, though the Navy found no evidence that was the culprit.
However, the incidents have drawn attention to sleep deprivation among US sailors and the strain created by high operational tempos.
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