Yet similar problems were apparent months ago, when the cruiser Antietam ran aground in Tokyo Bay in January, a costly mistake caused in part by sloppy anchoring, according to an internal Navy investigation.
That investigation raised questions about whether sailors could anchor a ship properly and led Surface Naval Force commander Vice Adm. T.S. Rowden to direct other commands to review whether existing technical manuals sufficiently explain how to anchor.
“There does need to be a review to determine whether procedures that fully capture the requirements to set an anchor currently exist,” Rowden wrote in his April investigation endorsement.
The investigation into the Antietam’s grounding, recently released under a Freedom of Information Act request, casts a spotlight on the lackadaisical seamanship and questionable leadership that is now a top concern among Navy leaders.
Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift sent an internal message Tuesday to officers in charge that the fleet had experienced ”a series of unfortunate incidents, some of which claimed the lives of our shipmates,” while conducting basic duties like anchoring, navigation, surface ship contact management and carrier qualifications.
His message came after Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson announced a one-day ”operational pause” in the wake of the destroyer John S. McCain’s fatal collision with an oil tanker Monday morning near Singapore that left at least one sailor dead and nine sailors missing.
That disaster took place two months after the destroyer Fitzgerald was struck by a commercial ship off the Japanese coast in June, killing seven sailors.
Those fatalities led to the firing Wednesday of 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, who was weeks away from retirement.
The grounding of the Antietam in January was the first in a series of four mishaps so far this year. It was followed by the cruiser Lake Champlain colliding with a South Korean fishing vessel this spring.
Capt. Joseph Carrigan, who was relieved of Antietam’s command in March and received no further punishment, failed to fire the engines as the ship drifted toward a shoal that morning, the report states.
“The grounding was preventable and the CO is ultimately responsible,” the Carrier Strike Group Five report states.
He is currently with 7th Fleet and awaiting orders, officials said.
While not listed as direct causes of the grounding, the report cites a series of miscues that contributed to the incident, which led to $4.2 million in repairs and 1,100 gallons of oil spilling into the bay.
As the ship drifted toward a shoal while bringing up anchor in high winds and currents that morning, Carrigan failed to fire the engines because he feared the anchor would damage the sonar dome, according to the report.
Before that, the ship missed its intended anchorage spot by 60 yards on approach. Instead, it anchored 247 yards from its intended position and didn’t let out enough anchor chain to stop the ship.
The phone talker relayed the ”let go the anchor” order after hearing Carrigan, instead of waiting for direction from the officer of the deck, the report states.
There was a delay between the time of the anchor order and when the anchor fell because a pelican hook retaining pin was inserted backwards, making it difficult for deck sailors to remove it, according to the report.