US Navy censures commanding, junior officers involved in deadly USS Fitzgerald collision

USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) arrives at the port of Pascagoula, Miss., Friday, Jan. 19, 2018 aboard heavy lift transport vessel MV Transshelf. Photo: US Navy

US Navy Secretary (SECNAV) Richard V. Spencer is to issue a secretarial letter of censure to former USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) commanding officer Cmdr. Bryce Benson and former crew member Lt. Natalie Combs, for their role in the deadly collision off Japan in June 2018.

The destroyer collided with Filipino merchant vessel ACX Crystal on June 17, about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. Seven sailors lost their lives in the incident.

The public letter of censure that will be issued by SECNAV is used to publicly shame service members but has no legal implications. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson will also withdraw and dismiss charges in the general courts-martial against the two officers.

“This decision is in the best interest of the Navy, the families of the Fitzgerald Sailors, and the procedural rights of the accused officers. Both officers were previously dismissed from their jobs and received non-judicial punishment,” a US Navy statement read.

USS Fitzgerald was transported from Japan to Mississippi for repairs in January 2018. The total cost of returning the destroyer to operational status, including transport from Japan, is expected to reach close to $370 million dollars.

US shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries is expected to complete works by January 2020.

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