Two top officers from the Japan-based 7th Fleet were fired Monday due to a loss of confidence in their ability to command, the second and third high-level firings in the fleet since the at-sea disasters this summer on the destroyers Fitzgerald and John S. McCain.
Task Force 70 commander Rear Adm. Charles Williams, and Destroyer Squadron 15 commander Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, were both relieved by newly installed 7th Fleet commanding officer, Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, according to a 7th Fleet release.
The Fitz and McCain both fall under the destroyer squadron, and Task Force 70 has tactical control over ships deploying or transiting in 7th Fleet’s waters.
Seventh Fleet officials would not confirm whether the firings were related to the Fitz and McCain disasters.
A senior U.S. Navy officer told a congressional oversight panel Thursday that the hectic pace of military operations and a constrained military budget don’t excuse two warship accidents in the Pacific region that killed 17 American sailors and led the sea-going service to order a broad investigation into its performance and readiness.
Sawyer took the helm of the troubled 7th Fleet late last month after his predecessor, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, was fired in the wake of the McCain’s collision with an oil tanker near Singapore that led to the deaths of 10 sailors.
In June, seven Fitz sailors drowned after a merchant vessel struck its starboard side off Japan.
Sailors had less than a minute to escape as seawater blasted through a massive hole in the destroyer Fitzgerald after a container ship struck its starboard side on June 19.
Bennett assumed command of the destroyer squadron in September 2016, while Williams took control of Task Force 70 in July 2016.
The Navy has undertaken a fleet-wide review of its training, manning and readiness standards in the wake of the two disasters.
Seventh Fleet has come in to particular focus due to a high operational tempo that watchdog groups warn is forcing those ships and crews to forego the kinds of training and maintenance enjoyed by vessels home-ported in the United States.
The head of U.S. Forces Pacific is preparing to sack the head of the three-star U.S. 7th Fleet after a string of mishaps among the Japan-based ships that have rocked the Navy to its core.