Inconceivable

Sorry, I just watched “The Princess Bride” again. What? How on earth did the crew of the USS Fitzgerald allow the billion-dollar vessel to collide with a container ship?

Not only is the Fitzgerald stuffed full of super-sophisticated radars (note the phased-array antenna right above the collision damage), it has a large crew trained to keep bridge watch and should have been doing so. From the position of the damage, it appears likely that the Fitzgerald was the give-way vessel.

In addition, the container ship was, as required by law, squawking its identification, position, course and speed over AIS. The track is recorded, it appears that the ship made a slight turn to port a few minutes before the collision but simply resumed that new course after the collision, implying it was on autopilot, holding a steady course and speed. Whether or not anyone was keeping watch or on the bridge is an open question. Container ships tend to believe in Bahamian rules “The big boat has the right of way.”

Most military vessels do not squawk on AIS. Understandable in wartime, highly questionable in peacetime. The container ship would have a collision alarm driven by AIS, which would not have been activated. But surely the Fitzgerald would have an AIS receiver which would have set off an alarm.

The only possible explanation I can think off was that the Fitzgerald was stopped and unable to move for mechanical reasons, and could not contact anyone on the container ship. We’ll see.

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