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.
MC1 Peter Burghart/U.S. Navy
The headline shocked the close-knit world of the surface Navy: Seven sailors aboard the destroyer USS Fitzgerald were killed, and other crew members injured, when the warship collided with a cargo vessel off Japan.
As the Navy family grieves, both it and the wider world are asking the same question: How did this happen?
The short answer is that no one knows — yet. The official inquiries into what led up to the encounter could take months or more. The Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard both likely will eventually issue reports that describe what happened and could make recommendations for preventing another such accident.
“I will not speculate on how long these investigations will last,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Navy’s 7th Fleet. The Fitzgerald and the other ships of Destroyer Squadron 15, based outside Tokyo, fall under his authority.
There are clues, however, that explain how something like the Fitzgerald’s collision could happen, including the photographs of the ships involved, navigation data about the container ship ACX Crystal, and the experience the Navy has had with past mishaps.