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Decatur CO fired after providing Navy false reports on ship’s position, investigation finds

The commanding officer of the guided-missile destroyer Decatur was relieved of command after misleading the Navy’s 3rd Fleet about the ship’s position, according to a new report.

An investigation of the incident, obtained by the San Diego Union Tribune, claimed that Cmdr. Bob Bowen instructed his crew in September to avoid notifying 3rd Fleet officials that the ship had gone dead in the water to complete maintenance on one of its propeller shafts.

Additionally, the investigation found that Decatur’s crew falsified positioning reports to conceal that the ship was stalled for hours. Two electronic systems that could detect the ship’s position were disconnected in the process.

“I didn’t see the reason to let 3rd Fleet know that we — I mean, as long as we’re not doing anything crazy,” Bowen told investigators, according to the Tribune. “We could still do our mission. I just didn’t want them asking questions about ... ‘Hey, why are you guys doing this?’”

The incident occurred on the morning of Sept. 13 when the ship was sailing between Hawaii and Seal Beach, California, the report said. To conduct the repairs, the crew locked the ship’s shaft so it remained dead in the water.

A bridge watchstander contacted Bowen to check if 3rd Fleet knew about the situation, to which Bowen responded, “I don’t think they are aware.” When pressed about whether 3rd Fleet should be notified, Bowen said there was no need since the repairs would wrap up shortly, a sailor told investigators.

But when 3rd Fleet officials began inquiring about the ship’s position, course and speed, another bridge watchstander called Bowen. Once more, Bowen instructed the sailor not to inform 3rd Fleet.

“After I hung up with the captain, I understood what he was saying,” the sailor said in the report. “Basically, (to) provide ... where we would have been ... as if we were not (dead in the water). It just seemed a little awkward I guess....”

After Bowen brushed off a third recommendation to contact 3rd Fleet, the crew then mapped out a list of coordinates for where the ship would have been without stopping to handle the maintenance issue. That information was then relayed to 3rd Fleet.

"There was this piece of paper where the times and speed were calculated," a sailor told investigators. "It was, in my opinion, designed to make it look like we were continuing along our track ... when we weren't."

That sailor said he refused to partake in the scheme.

The ship continued feeding 3rd Fleet inaccurate coordinates until that evening, when Decatur had completed maintenance and sped off to make up for the lost time.

Although Bowen admitted that he informed his crew to avoid alerting 3rd Fleet that the ship was stalled, Bowen rejected accusations that he ordered the crew to provide 3rd Fleet with bogus coordinates and shut down electronic tracking equipment.

He also argued that the maintenance was routine and that 3rd Fleet didn’t need to be notified since the ship was less than four hours behind schedule.

At the time of Bowen’s firing in January, Navy officials stated only that the service had lost confidence in his ability to lead following a command investigation that had been launched in November, the Tribune reported. The investigation was initiated following a complaint to Navy officials via an anonymous hotline.

Bowen enlisted in the Navy in 1984 and was eventually commissioned in 2000, per his Navy records. He took command of the San-Diego based warship in April 2018.

The 3rd Fleet’s area of responsibility includes warships in the eastern and northern Pacific Ocean.

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