Destroyer crash offers lesson on sea rules

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/18 23:33:39

Seven US navy sailors were killed after the USS Fitzgerald, a US Navy destroyer, collided with a Philippine-flagged container ship on Saturday. The incident occurred about 56 nautical miles off Yokosuka, Japan, when the Fitzgerald was heading back to its home port following a mission in the South China Sea. 

The sailors who lost their lives in a non-combat situation deserve sympathy. Such a severe collision between a US destroyer and a commercial ship is inconceivable.

So far, there is no official account of the reason for the mishap. But many analysts hold the collision could be caused by operational blunders by the US destroyer.

A crash between large vessels is rare, so that a US destroyer was involved in a disastrous collision perhaps is built on the high frequency of voyages US warships undertake in the West Pacific.

The Fitzgerald often sails in the West Pacific, including in the coastal waters of China. Certain rules need to be followed to avoid collisions on the sea. It is an unspoken rule that the smaller ship should give way to the bigger one. At about 29,000 tons displacement, the Philippine container ship is more than three times the size of the 8,315-ton Fitzgerald. In the face of such a larger vessel, the Fitzgerald obviously did not show due prudence.

The incident took place in the coastal waters of Japan, where the authority of the US Navy is least likely to be challenged. It's believed that the Philippine container ship must have wanted to avoid a collision with the Fitzgerald, but unfortunately, the ship's bow struck the starboard side of the destroyer. 

The two ships crashed at about 2:30 am on Saturday, in the dark of night. Cargo ships often have lights on during night navigation so as to be identified from a long distance while the Fitzgerald is a small-sized destroyer which employs stealth technology. Under normal circumstances, it should have spotted the Philippine container ship first. From this perspective, the US side should bear more responsibility.

Given US' influence, no countries in the Asia-Pacific region want their vessels to get into trouble with US warships. This may have led to the US sailors' carelessness. The accident happened in the early hours when many sailors were asleep and relying on automatic instruments. Sailors won't have a bigger sense of caution when encountering US ships even though their governments are in awe of the US.

The ship that collided with the US destroyer is a Philippine-flagged vessel chartered by a Japanese shipping company. There are also many Chinese and Russian commercial ships in the West Pacific. If one of them crashed into the US destroyer, the situation would be more complicated and a geopolitical crisis might have been triggered.

Therefore, US warships which are frequently seen in the West Pacific should be cautious. Whether a US ship collides with a small boat or a barge, it would be a tragedy and be open to over-interpretation.

It is believed the commander of the Fitzgerald and people found liable will be punished. We hope all US warships in the West Pacific should draw a lesson from the incident, not only for their own safety, but also for the peace of the sea passages in the region.

Posted in: EDITORIAL

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