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US Navy Warship Commanders Facing Criminal Charges in Deadly Collisions


The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision, in Singapore waters Aug. 21, 2017.

Criminal charges have been filed against the commanding officers of two U.S. Navy warships that collided with commercial vessels in the Pacific last year, killing a total of 17 sailors.

Commander Bryce Benson of the USS Fitzgerald and Commander Alfredo Sanchez of the USS John S. McCain will be charged with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and endangering a ship, according to a statement issued by the Navy Tuesday.

Seven sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald were killed when the destroyer slammed into a Philippine container ship off the Japanese coast in June. Two months later, ten sailors were killed when the USS John S. McCain — named after the father and grandfather of U.S. Senator John McCain, both of them prominent admirals — collided with an oil tanker near Singapore. Benson and Sanchez have both been relieved of their duties.

Three other officers on the USS Fitzgerald — two lieutenants and a lieutenant junior grade — are facing the same charges as Benson. A chief petty officer aboard the USS John S. McCain has been charged with dereliction of duty.

The officers will go before a hearing to determine if they will be tried in a court-martial.

In addition, four members from the Fitzgerald and four from the McCain are facing administrative actions.

A report on the collisions issued November by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson found the accidents were “avoidable” and happened due to lax standards and poor preparation. They included failing to plan for safety as well as failures in adhering to sound navigation practice and executing basic watch procedures.

Several senior naval officers were fired as a result of the incidents, including Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin, the commander of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet, the Navy's largest.

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