Sunday, June 18, 2017

USS Fitzgerald Vs. ACX Crystal - whose fault?

In the recent night time collision between the USS Fitzgerald and the containership ACX Crystal, the  Fitzgerald obviously got the short end of the stick in the deal.  While not a surprise given the more than 2:1 unladen weight advantage of the containership, the accident involved loss of American life which of course is a very regrettable event.  But while the media acts like there needs to be a big investigation to determine who is to fault, I can settle the matter for you easily.  The Fitzgerald was in the wrong.

I know this because I have captained many boats myself and the so called maritime rules of the road are pretty clear.  When 2 boats meet at nearly perpendicular angles, the one on the right gets the right of way.  From the pictures below it is pretty easy to see that the left (AKA "port") side of the cargo ship's nose hit the right (aka starboard) side of the Fitzgerald.  That means the cargo vessel was to the right of the Fitzgerald upon collision.

As diagramed below, when 2 boats meet like this the one on the right is designated the "stand on" vessel and it should hold course and speed but the one to the left is called the "give way" vessel which must take all steps needed to not collide.  This rule is put into practice using boat navigational lights.  Those on the port side of the boat are red.  On the starboard side they are green.   The commander of the ACX Crystal could see the green light of the Fitzgerald so it told him he had the green light for right of way.  Conversely, the Fitzgerald could only see the red light of the AXC Crystal meaning that it should stop or otherwise maneuver out of the way.  Its a very clever system that has been in place for a long time.

Furthermore, there are other maritime rules which essentially indicate that the less maneuverable vessel should not be counted upon to maneuver and the more maneuverable vessel should use its capability to do so in order to avoid the collision.  Container ships under steam are not known for their stopping power or their maneuverability.  There is a lot of momentum to overcome.  Conversely the Fitzgerald is a fighting vessel which sports high speed and high maneuverability for a ship of its size.

That's 2 strikes against the Fitz.  We need to just admit that the Fitz was wrong and not try to blame someone else for our failing.  Many people should be drummed out of the service for this and the captain should be held criminally accountable.  You know, just like you or I would if we were at fault.

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