Insanity? Warships that go bump in the night…
“Insanity : doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
Almost five years ago, USS Porter was involved in a collision in the Straits of Hormuz with the MT Otowasan. The damage pictured above was severe and cost in the neighborhood of $50 million to repair. Thankfully, there was no payment in blood for USS Porter, as there were no fatalities nor injuries to the crew. The same could not be said five years later and just two weeks ago when USS Fitzgerald was involved with a collision with the MV ACX Chrystal. In this latest tragic collision, seven U.S. Navy sailors lost their lives. In addition, there were numerous injuries on USS Fitzgerald, including the commanding officer (CO).
The similarities in the collision location are striking, as can be seen in the side-by-side photos above. The circumstances of the collisions may differ, but the result was very similar. In the Fitzgerald’s case, the damage – particularly below the waterline – was much more extensive due to the pronounced bulbous bow of a containership. Had USS Porter been struck by a different vessel (or same vessel as USS Fitzgerald), the situation may have been more dire.
It’s ironic that the January 2017 issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings contained an article referencing the USS Porter’s collision in 2012. That article (linked below) recounts the fact that many can learn from the mishaps of others. The article’s author, Capt. John Cordle also lamented that there is a paucity of reports regarding such collisions or incidents. It appears that reporting of more minor incidents, also known as near misses throughout the safety industry, is discouraged or frowned upon within the U.S. Navy surface warfare community. This, as well as the lack of access to official reports of collisions, groundings, etc of U.S. naval vessels, is unfortunate as, once again, much can be learned from the mishaps of others.
Albert Einstein is oft-quoted as saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The use of incident reports or near misses – whether they be from commercial or naval vessels – can help educate the junior officers – again, whether they be commercial or naval. The price paid, be it in blood, tax dollars or corporate income, is not worth the silence that often follows major incidents.
The U.S. Navy is certainly not alone in not wanting to shed light on some of its actions. Flag states such as Panama, Liberia, Cyprus and other flags-of-convenience (FOC) frequently publish minimal or no investigation reports for major incidents. Try to find out what caused the explosion on Hyundai Fortune (Panama-flagged) in 2006 or the loss of Leros Strength (Cyprus-flagged) in 1997 and you will find the same stone wall as if you wanted to know how USS Porter was involved in a collision.
Let’s be safe out there.
Additional Reading and Links
USNI Proceedings January 2017 : We Can Prevent Surface Mishaps – Capt. John Cordle, USN(R)