WASHINGTON NAVY YARD — The officer who was in charge of the destroyer John S. McCain when it collided with the 30,000-ton, 600-foot-long oil tanker Alnic MC had his punishment doled out Friday afternoon at a special court-martial in front of family members of the 10 sailors who died in the carnage.
Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez pleaded guilty, as part of a pretrial agreement, to dereliction of duty for his role in the Aug. 21 collision off the coast of Singapore.
Ensuring the ship’s safe navigation, setting a proper watch, taking control of the ship during a system casualty and following operational standing orders were all duties Sanchez failed to perform, according to the charges.
Sanchez was sentenced by Navy judge advocate Capt. Charles Purnell to a letter of reprimand and a forfeiture of $2,000 per month for three months. He currently has a base pay of $9,009 per month.
Part of the plea deal also stipulates that Sanchez will submit a retirement request.
As the judge readied to announce the terms, Sanchez’s defense asked that he be given a just sentence, “one that reflects the small slice of responsibility he has” in the collision.
Much discussion has occurred on what went wrong the morning of Aug. 21, the defense said, but not enough has been said about the ship-saving efforts of Sanchez and his crew in the moments immediately following the collision.
“We are here with 10 lost souls,” said Sanchez’s defense attorney, Cmdr. Stuart Kirkby. “This could easily have been 100 lost souls. This could have easily been a capsized ship.”
The McCain was able to sail into port under her own power following the collision.
The judge took note of Sanchez’s exemplary 20-year career, and made clear that he didn't want the former CO to fall on a sword.
“Don’t be the eleventh casualty of McCain,” he told Sanchez as he announced the sentence. “You still have a lot to contribute.”
Sanchez was originally charged with negligent homicide and hazarding a vessel in addition to the dereliction charge. Both other charges were dropped as part of the pretrial agreement.
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.