Five Navy officers facing negligent homicide charges following ship collisions

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The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain is seen after a collision. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood

Five United States Navy officers are being charged with negligent homicide after being involved in two ship collisions that killed 17 sailors last year.

The officers are also being charged with dereliction of duty and endangering a ship. They will be subject to an Article 32 hearing to determine if they will face trial in a court-martial.

In June, the USS Fitzgerald collided with a Philippine container ship, resulting to seven navy casualties. Two months later, the USS John S McCain collided with a Liberian oil tanker near Singapore, leaving 10 navy officers dead.

The decision was handed down by Adm. Frank Caldwell following investigations, which found that both incidents were avoidable and came about as a result of multiple failures. In addition, it was found that the ships demonstrated poor seamanship.

In a statement, the U.S. Navy said that the then commanding officer of the USS Fitzgerald, along with two Lieutenants, and one Lieutenant Junior Grade, are facing charges.

Cmdr. Bryce Benson was the commanding officer of the USS Fitzgerald when the collision occurred off the coast of Japan. The impact left a large gash below the Navy destroyer’s waterline, which led to the lower decks being flooded. Benson, who was trapped in his cabin as a result of the collision, was later fired from his position.

Similarly, the collision between the USS John S McCain and the Liberian oil tanker left a hole on the ship’s side, which flooded the ship’s compartments.

The recently replaced commanding officer of the USS John S McCain, Cmdr Alfredo J Sanchez, will also be facing the same charges. Sanchez has also been fired following the incident.

“The announcement of an Article 32 hearing and referral to a court-martial is not intended to and does not reflect a determination of guilt or innocence related to any offenses,” read the Navy’s statement. “All individuals alleged to have committed misconduct are entitled to a presumption of innocence.”

Both the Filipino container ship and the Liberian tanker sustained damages, but none of their crews were injured or killed.