The Navy on Monday released the first details regarding three junior officers charged for their alleged roles in the destroyer Fitzgerald’s collision with a merchant vessel last summer, an incident that killed seven sailors.
Two of the officers remain unidentified, and Navy officials said their names will be made public at their hearing this week.
Lt. j.g. Sarah Coppock was the officer of the deck, or OOD, early on June 17, when the Fitz was steaming off Japan, according to a charge sheet released by the service.
She will face a special court-martial Tuesday in Washington and is charged with dereliction in the performance of duties through neglect resulting in death, according to the charge sheet.
As OOD, Coppock oversaw ship navigation when the commanding officer was not present.
She is accused of failing to comply with the commanding officer’s standing orders, as well as international water navigation rules.
It was Coppock’s duty to communicate with the ship’s combat information center, report ship contacts to the skipper, operate safely in high-density traffic and “alert crew of imminent collisions,” the charge sheet states.
While the Navy has refused to make public any of its investigations into the disaster, a review released last fall found the OOD didn’t attempt to contact the commercial ACX Crystal ship via radio, nor did she attempt to maneuver to avoid the Crystal until a minute before the collision.
At one point, the Fitz crossed the bow of an oncoming merchant ship at a range of less than 650 yards — fewer than four ship lengths — and the OOD never informed the captain, a violation of standing orders that require the skipper to be summoned to oversee hazardous conditions.
The Fitz’s crew had no warning before the hulking Crystal plowed into her starboard side. The impact flooded sailors’ living quarters in less than a minute, according to the review.
The ship’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was asleep, and the Crystal’s bow punched into his quarters. He was injured and rescued by crew members as he clung to the side of the ship.
He faces an Article 32 hearing to determine if he will be court-martialed later this month.
On Wednesday, two Navy lieutenants will face Article 32 proceedings for their roles in the Fitz collision.
One, a woman whose name was redacted in the charge sheet provided by the Navy, was serving as the tactical action officer at the time.
Known as a TAO, the officer is responsible for the weapons, propulsion and sensors while the captain is away, and has the authority to maneuver.
She was derelict by failing to communicate with the bridge regarding safe speed and maneuvering recommendations, while failing to enforce efficient watch standing in the combat information center, which handles weapons systems and radar, according to the charge sheet.
Last year’s review found watch standers in the center failed to “tune and adjust their radar to maintain an accurate picture of other ships in the area.”
An unidentified male lieutenant faces the same charges as the unidentified female lieutenant.
He was serving as the surface warfare coordinator in the combat information center and is accused of failing to provide recommendations to the TAO and the bridge, while failing to stand his assigned station or ensure proper watch standing was carried out, according to the charge sheet.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.