BATH, Maine — Retired test electrician Dan Dowling watched news coverage of the collision of a Philippine container ship with the USS Fitzgerald on Saturday with particular interest.
Dowling, who retired earlier this year after 33 years, worked with other shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works to ready the future USS Fitzgerald — known in the yard as DDG 62 — for the U.S. Navy prior to its January 1994 launch.
As saddened as he was about the seven sailors killed in the crash south of Tokyo Bay, Dowling said he felt a sense of pride when the Bath-built Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer withstood the devastating impact with a much larger ship. Although he’s no longer at the yard every day, he said the incident was a testament to the quality ships produced at BIW.
“It was a catastrophic event — a collision at sea,” he said of the incident. “Basically the DDG was T-boned by a ship much larger than itself. It’s a testimonial to the workers that BIW can produce a quality ship that can withstand that type of catastrophe.”
Dowling also remembered hearing that the USS Samuel B. Roberts, built at BIW in the early 1980s, had been damaged by an Iranian mine. The explosion blew a 15-foot hole in the engine room — a room Dowling remembers working in. Ultimately the ship was saved and repaired.
“Bath Iron Works has produced a lot of quality ships, and that quality is apparent in times of catastrophic happenings, like the Fitzgerald, and it’s also evident when they perform in combat,” Dowling said.
Reuters reported Monday that the U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard and several Japanese authorities are conducting investigations into the collision.
The destroyer is salvageable, but repairs will take months, Vice Admiral Joseph P. Aucoin, commander of the Seventh Fleet, told Reuters.
Dowling said he does have questions for the Navy, “as a consumer, as a taxpayer, or simply as an American: Did the ship’s crew have their systems activated? The jury’s still out on how a technical marvel of the sea could have been hit by a common [container ship].”