How does a loaded container ship ‘sneak up’ on a U.S. destroyer?

This inquiring mind wants to know: how the hell does a hulking container ship “sneak up” on a United States destroyer? The USS Fitzgerald got T-boned amidships by the bow of the ACX Crystal when apparently the container ship “appeared out of nowhere” just before dawn on Saturday and rammed the destroyer.

I liken this “accident” to a hippo accidentally running headlong into a jaguar, surprising the supposedly wary and agile killer cat because the jaguar was apparently unaware of the hippo’s presence, didn’t expect to be rammed, and couldn’t get out of the way in time to avoid being T-boned.

Doesn’t that about cover it?

Most of you ex-military folks will recognize the term “FUBAR” and that’s how I classify this episode. For nonmilitary folks, it’s an acronym for “F**ked up beyond all recognition.” “Asleep at the Wheel” is another phrase that seems to apply.

How the hell could a U.S. fighting ship, a guided-missile destroyer, not see this almost 40,000 ton, 730 ft. long behemoth coming directly at her? The ACX Crystal is about four times the size of the destroyer and was loaded with containers (capacity up to 2,858 containers) – hardly a stealthy vessel.

Isn’t one of the primary duties of destroyers to protect our aircraft carriers? The Fitzgerald supposedly has three kinds of radars (not counting fire control) and two of them are identified as surface search radars. Didn’t someone notice a BIG blip coming towards them or were the operators totally immersed in playing video games?

Whatever the reason, this never should have happened.

Obviously, our national heart bleeds for the seven crew members who lost their lives in this incident. They are lost and their families will suffer because of a monumental screw-up by a person or persons unknown (for now). A Court Martial is too good for whoever is to blame for this major black eye for the U.S.Navy and loss of life for seven of our seamen.

I can’t wait to hear the Navy’s explanation of how the hulking, slow-moving container ship caught our fighting ship with her skivvies down.

The ACX Crystal struck the Fitzgerald on the forward starboard side both above and below the water line, crushing the captain’s cabin and damaging two berthing spaces, a machinery space, and the radio room. The collision occurred about 56 nautical miles (104 kilometers; 64 miles) southwest of her homeport of Yokosuka, Japan, some 25 minutes after ACX Crystal had made an unexplained U-turn.

ACX Crystal

The ACX Crystal is a Container ship. It displaces 29,060 tons (almost 40,000 tons loaded) and is 730 feet long. Her capacity is 2,858 containers. She is operated with a crew of 20.

The Crystal’s top speed is 25.3 knots (46.9 km/h, 29.1 mph), service speed is 23.0 knots (42.6 km/h, 26.5 mph). ACX is 9 years-old and was built in South Korea. Though Philippines-flagged, it’s said to be operated by Japanese NYK. Its home port is Manila.

USS Fitzgerald

The USS Fitzgerald is an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer that cost $1.5 billion to build. She was built by Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine in 1993. Though actual speed is classified, her top speed is estimated to be in excess of 30 knots (56 km/h, 34.8 mph)). The Fitzgerald (DDG 62) is roughly 8,230 tons and 505 feet long. She is now homeported at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan and is part of Destroyer Squadron 15. She has a crew of 33 commissioned officers, 38 chief petty officers, and 210 enlisted personnel.

On 1 June 2017, Fitzgerald, operating out of Yokosuka Naval Base, was noted for participating in routine exercises with Japan that were described in the media as a show of force to North Korea. She sailed with the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, the cruiser Shiloh and the destroyers BarryMcCampbell, and Mustin, joined by the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, cruiser Lake Champlain and destroyers Wayne E. Meyer and Michael Murphy, and Japanese ships Hyūga and Ashigara.

The Navy is being tight-lipped about exactly what happened and why. In time, we’ll learn what they want us to know. In the meantime, all we can do is wonder how one of our fighting ships, a destroyer got rammed by a container ship. It appears that it could hardly be called an accident. Could it be a terrorist attack or could North Korea be probing for weaknesses in our battle group? Inquiring minds (at least this one) want to know.



Categories: General


9 replies

  1. Glad you posted on this mystery.

    And it took an hour for the destroyer to report the crash.

    It’s all very fishy or hinky as Kathy said.


  2. Great questions you’re asking here, Garnet. To be honest it hadn’t occurred to me to question this incident at all. Now my mind is racing.

    Crawfish had some interesting comments and the pic Kathy posted is definitely suspicious. I know the ocean is a big place but at just 56 miles from port it would stun me to learn that the destroyer stops making any effort to avoid an accidental collision with another vessel. That seems like gross negligence of the worst sort to me.

    Whatever the explanation ultimately is this may be one for the conspiracy books.


    • Excellent point, CW. I hadn’t thought of that. It does seem that EMCON would be more appropriate in open waters more than 56 miles from shore – but that’s outside my area of knowledge and Craw’s scenario is probably still the most likely.


  3. There is something hinky about this and on both sides of the story. Crawfish’s theory makes sense, except for leaving themselves vulnerable during peace time. Then the route of the cargo ship shows they doubled back to the destroyer’s location. Why?

    This link shows the supposed path of the Crystal.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. If the destroyer was operating under EMCON (Emmissions Control, aka radio silence) and without lights, especially if at very low speed, it is quite plausible. Under EMCON, no radars are operating, so they FITZGERALD would not have known the container ship was there until it got close, since reports are that the CRYSTAL had her lights turned off.

    Why would FITZGERALD be in EMCON? The simple answer is Kim of the bad haircut. If FITZGERALD’s position is not known to Kim, he doesn’t know that a ship that can shoot down missiles heading toward US/Japanese bases is there. If other assets, such as satellites, spot a missile launch, the FLASH message goes to FITZGERALD, and the radars immediately come on, and the automated systems can have 2 of her missiles in the air within 90 seconds.

    I don’t know if this scenario is accurate for that night, but it is the only one that makes sense to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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