Sailors Could Face Criminal Charges After Deadly Ship Crashes

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers toward Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Aug. 21, following a collision with a merchant ship east of the Straits of Malacca. (US Navy photo/Joshua Fulton)

A Japanese Coast Guard vessel sails alongside the damaged USS Fitzgerald off the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan, after the destroyer collided with a container ship in the waters near the Izu Peninsula on June 17. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

The guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) steers toward Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Aug. 21, following a collision with a merchant ship east of the Straits of Malacca. (US Navy photo/Joshua Fulton)

In the wake of two ship collisions within months of each other that claimed the lives of 17 sailors this summer, a three-star admiral was relieved, a four-star was passed over for command, and a number of other officers were removed from their posts.

But more serious personnel actions may be still to come and could include legal prosecution, as well as administrative moves.

On Thursday, the Navy released the results of a 60-day comprehensive review, blaming the two collisions on an array of factors, from insufficient training and experience to crew fatigue and a punishing operational tempo that damaged readiness.

But, said Adm. John Richardson, chief of Naval Operations, negligence was also a factor in the mishaps.

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“We found the commanding officers were at fault, executive officers were at fault, there were some watchstanders on the ships. And we’ve been pretty clear about identifying where there was fault and taking appropriate accountability actions, up to and including the 7th Fleet commander,” Richardson said.

Richardson added that he had appointed Adm. Frank Caldwell, the four-star head of the Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Program, to be the consolidated disposition authority with regard to the crashes and personnel action.

Caldwell, he said, will “take a comprehensive look at all of these and … make his recommendations with respect to any further action.”

USNI News first reported Caldwell’s appointment.

Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, the 7th Fleet Commander, was the first to be relieved immediately following the collision of the destroyer John S. McCain with a Liberian-flagged tanker Aug. 21.Aucoin’s replacement, Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, then relieved the commander of Task Force 70, Rear Adm. Charles Williams, and the commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, Capt. Jeffrey Bennett.The commander and executive officer of the McCain, Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez and Cmdr. Jessie Sanchez, were fired Oct. 11 .The destroyer Fitzgerald, which collided with a Philippines-flagged container ship in June, had its entire command triad — Cmdr. Bryce Benson, executive officer Cmdr. Sean Babbitt and command master chief CMC Brice Baldwin — relieved in August .On Sept. 25, the four-star commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Scott Swift, announced he would retire after being denied a nomination to head U.S. Pacific Command in the fallout from the collisions.Investigations into both collisions made public Wednesday paint a damning picture of errors in judgment and inattention to near […]