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In USS Fitzgerald Disaster, Signs of History Repeating

19 Jun 2017 11:06 am
By Alastair Gale 

TOKYO--In late 1985, a U.S. Navy frigate was sailing in the dark near Yokosuka port in Japan when it was hit by a Philippine-registered freighter, tearing a large gash in its right side.

The collision, which caused only minor injuries, bears an uncanny resemblance to the deadly impact in the predawn hours Saturday of the USS Fitzgerald, a destroyer, and a Philippine-flagged cargo vessel 56 nautical miles south of Yokosuka. Seven U.S. sailors were killed in the weekend disaster.

While the incidents are 32 years apart and may have different causes, they highlight questions over safety in one of Japan's busiest maritime regions. Yokosuka, home to the U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet, sits at the entrance to Tokyo Bay, home to the major ports of Yokohama and Tokyo.

On Monday, a U.S. Coast Guard investigation team arrived in Japan to begin working on a safety probe into the latest collision. The U.S. Navy is holding a separate investigation into the cause of the incident, while Japan's coast guard and Transport Safety Board have launched their own investigations.

Officials on both sides declined to provide initial assessments on the cause of the collision.

The cargo ship involved in the weekend disaster, the ACX Crystal, finished unloading its cargo of containers on Monday in the port of Yokohama, officials from the ship's owner, Nippon Yusen K.K., said. They added that damage to the front of the vessel would likely be repaired.

The U.S. Navy and Nippon Yusen declined to make crew members from either ship available for interviews.

The December 1985 collision occurred around one mile outside Yokosuka harbor, according to an Associated Press report from the time. The USS Lockwood sustained a hole 25 feet wide in front of the bridge on its right side. Three sailors sprained their backs and one broke his ankle, according to the report.

The U.S. Navy didn't immediately respond to an emailed question about the result of the investigation into the 1985 incident.

John Durkin, a former crew member of the USS Lockwood who had been transferred off the ship shortly before the accident, said that the captain was immediately relieved from his position.

"In the Navy it doesn't matter whose fault it is, the captain is responsible. There's a very strong culture of responsibility," he said.

Chieko Tsuneoka contributed to this article.

Write to Alastair Gale at alastair.gale@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 19, 2017 07:06 ET (11:06 GMT)

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