The top two officers and the top enlisted sailor who were aboard the destroyer USS Fitzgerald are among about a dozen sailors who will face discipline following an early-morning collision June 17 that killed seven crew members, a senior Navy officer said Thursday.
Adm. William Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, told reporters at the Pentagon that the majority of the punishments will be delivered Friday where the ship is homeported in Yokosuka, Japan. One sailor received an undisclosed administrative punishment Thursday.
The discipline will include likely career-ending actions against Cmdr. Bryce Benson, the ship’s captain at the time, and his second in command, Cmdr. Sean Babbitt, Moran said. They and the senior enlisted sailor for the ship, Command Master Chief Brice Baldwin, will be removed as leaders of the ship permanently, Moran said.
The admiral said that sailors who were supposed to be on watch in the ship’s bridge – its nerve center – also will be disciplined. Neither Benson nor Babbitt was in the bridge at the time of the collision, in which the 505-foot destroyer was struck off the coast of Japan by a much heavier container ship, the Philippine-flagged MV ACX Crystal.
The container ship’s bulbous nose ripped a 13-foot by 17-foot hole in the starboard size of the Fitzgerald, flooding one compartment where 35 sailors were inside within 90 seconds, Moran said. The ensuing flooding left disoriented sailors scrambling for their lives amid a soupy mix of personal items, electronics and mattresses, and some of the survivors were forced to seal a door with other sailors still inside in an effort to prevent the ship from sinking.
“You can just imagine the confusion and how difficult it would have been to escape Berthing Compartment 2,” Moran said.
Benson’s stateroom also was flattened by the collision, injuring him and leaving him incapacitated. He was eventually medically evacuated from the Fitzgerald by a Japanese helicopter.
The sailors killed included Gunner’s Mate Seaman Dakota Kyle Rigsby, 19; Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25; Sonar Technician 3rd Class Ngoc T. Truong Huynh, 25; Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Noe Hernandez, 26; Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23; Personnel Specialist 1st Class Xavier Alec Martin, 24, and Firecontrolman 1st Class Gary Leo Rehm Jr., 37.