Navy ship involved in deadly collision will return stateside for repairs

SAN DIEGO — The Navy ship that collided with a merchant vessel in June off the coast of Japan, killing two San Diego-area sailors and five others, is set to return stateside later this year for continued repairs, the Navy announced.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald will change its home port from Yokosuka, Japan to Pascagoula, Mississippi, with the change to be made official Dec. 15. In the meantime, a Houston-based company has won a contract to heavy-lift the ship, which will entail lifting the Fitzgerald out of the water and placing it on the deck of a larger ship to sail it back to the United States.

The Navy has not yet determined how long it will take or how much it will cost to repair the damaged ship.

Huntington Ingalls Industries will perform the repairs on the Fitzgerald, the Navy announced. The company was the only Arleigh Burke-class shipbuilder with the available capacity to restore the Fitzgerald to operational status “in the shortest period of time with minimal disruption to ongoing repair and new construction work,” Navy officials said.

The Fitzgerald collided with the Philippines-flagged merchant vessel ACX Crystal on June 17, sustaining severe damage that flooded three compartments, including a birthing area where 35 sailors were asleep. A preliminary investigation detailed how the sleeping sailors had about a minute and a half to flee the flooding sleeping area.

Then-Yeoman 3rd Class Shingo Alexander Douglass, 25, from San Diego, and then-Fire Controlman 2nd Class Carlos Victor Ganzon Sibayan, 23, from Chula Vista, were among those killed. The duo, and the five other victims, were posthumously promoted last month.

“The occupants of Berthing 2 described a rapidly flooding space, estimating later that the space was nearly flooded within a span of 30 to 60 seconds,” said a 41-page report from one of the preliminary investigations, which estimated the sailors had no more than 90 seconds to escape.

“By the time the third sailor to leave arrived at the ladder, the water was already waist deep,” the report said. “Debris, including mattresses, furniture, an exercise bicycle, and wall lockers, floated into the aisles between racks in Berthing 2.”

The ladder by which the sailors escaped was on the port side, and water quickly climbed to their necks. The seven who didn’t survive were in starboard racks, and the only one who escaped by taking a route on that side went unconscious for a time and wasn’t sure how he got out.

Just more than two months later, the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain, also based in Japan, was involved in a similar crash with a merchant vessel in the South China Sea. That collision killed 10 sailors, and the combination of both crashes led to several top officers losing their jobs.