USS McCain collides with merchantman, 10 sailors missing


Yeah, and even in the incredibly unlikely event they couldn’t safely slow down and that they had no helm control whatsoever, they should easily have been able to warn off anything from coming near them with radio, searchlights, flares, klaxons, drones, the whole nine yards.

Moreover, if they had known or even suspected a collision was coming, I suppose there would have been no deaths as they would have evacuated the impact zone. So I presume that they had no idea they were on a collision course with a large commercial ship, and that the collision came as a surprise with no one knowing it was going to happen up until just a few seconds at most before the impact.

The concatenation of system failures and multiple human lapses required for all this to happen is really hard to imagine unless there’s some crucial aspect to the situation we haven’t yet learned about.


Not really, depending on the situation.

They hit a huge merchant tanker that weighed 50,000 tons, carrying 12,000 tons of oil… A huge merchant tanker can’t just turn and avoid stuff. Big tankers have a turning radius of like 1.5 Nautical Miles, and a stopping distance of nearly 10 Nautical miles from cruising speed.

It’s totally possible that even if they told that ship that they were unable to steer, that the tanker wouldn’t have been able to do much about it.


But here’s the thing that really doesn’t make sense to me (bearing in mind I have spent a lot of time on boats but know nothing how a ship like that operates).

If, as they said, they knew the steering was out for several minutes prior to the impact, doesn’t it stand to reason they would be all the more alert for anything that might be in their path?

Call me crazy, but “lost control of steering” sounds an awful lot like no one was driving the boat, so to speak.


Nah, in turn. Even a supertanker doesn’t have to turn far to miss a destroyer which runs with a very narrow beam, after all. It’s not like steering around a lee shore or something. IMO a destroyer’s not that hard to miss if you can see it. And they could easily have seen the destroyer from over the horizon, miles and miles away if it was lit up and making a big display of itself. I have to assume the McCain was running in the usual subdued warship manner with AIS probably not even turned on, and that the crew had no orders to do anything to alert nearby shipping of their situation.

But of course this is a lot of speculation. Who knows what their real situation was. We may never learn it at all since the eventual board and court martial might be closed to the public.


If they were in a congested region (which they were) they likely would have been in closer quarters than normal. Given the displacement difference, I believe that the rules of the road would generally have put it on the McCain to maneuver out of the way, given it’s dramatically higher agility… Gnerally it depends upon what side folks are approaching from, but I seem to recall that in cases of large differences in ship maneuverability the faster ship usually moves.

Given that the steering was out so close to the time of impact, it’s likely that the merchant ship was totally aware that it was there, but expected the McCain to move (especially if it was coming from the yielding side) and the McCain may have totally intended to do it. And by the time the steering failed, it may have been too late for either to do anything.

I’d rather let the investigations take place before speculating that the watchstanders on the bridge screwed up.


I think near port the larger ship has right of way regardless of other factors.


Agreed. And even if the watchkeepers screwed up, there’s the question of whether they were properly trained, led, and prepared, etc. Given the apparent issues at the top of the fleet, I imagine the blame will fall up the chain of command more than down. Remember this story?


Well, they canned the admiral, so it’s already basically fallen all the way up the chain of command.


The one good thing about the Navy is more than most other organization there is a level of accountability.

Other than a few cases during wartime, if a ship has collision or runs aground the Captain gets a career ending punishments, as does the Officer of Deck, and often Chief of the watch. and some seamen.

In this case, a 3 star admiral lost his job which seems entirely appropriate.

The contrast between this and say the roll out which to my knowledge no senior official lost their job is pretty striking.


Beyond what was reported in this story, the scandal also delayed the promotions of senior naval officers in the Pacific. I know my friend promotion to 1 star Admiral was held up because his ship had sailed to Singapore.


That’s interesting, indeed. It also reinforces, if anyone needed any reinforcement!, why doing Bad Things is, well, Bad. It screws over everyone else in the command. The officers involved in this sort of dishonorable activity are lower than snake spit.


Worth a read…—what-are-root-causes

Part 2 is also up:—operational-pause


Penny wise and pound foolish? How many times has this story played out? You’ve got people operating equipment that costs billions, and you skimp on their training in order to save a few million.


The Twitterverse is floating the possibility that the four incidents (two of which were the collisions) this year involving the 7th Fleet may be the result of cyber attacks into the highly-computerized navigation systems.

The Navy says “No evidence, but we’re looking into it,” so right now it’s just an Internet rumor. But it does have a ring of truthiness to it – it would certainly be in the interests of China (a major cyber-warfare state, apparently) to want to cause reduced trust in the 7th Fleet’s competence and curtail their activities in and around the South China Sea.


And I kind of doubt it would be something they publicly admit to, even if true.


I can’t imagine China wanting to play such high stakes. Can you imagine what the response would be if you pinned the deaths down directly to Chinese action?


I’m going to go with “a nasty Tweet”, probably with “China” misspelled.


People always want to believe a conspiracy theory.

As that former captain noted in those links, there are hydraulic backup steering systems that bypass all computers.

And any kind of hacking does not work if the lookouts are paying attention and actions are taken to avoid collisions. Burkes are like the Ferraris of warships. They’re designed to go fast (their namesake was known as “31 knots Burke” because his destroyer squadron hauled ass during WW2.) There is absolutely no excuse why a bigger, slower, and less maneuverable oil tanker should ram into one.


@CJ_Martin thanks for linking the articles above. It’s giving me a bad feeling about how much the Navy has changed since I’ve been out.


Yeah, navigation or other system hacks should have zero impact on the Mark I Eyeball. But…and you see this in a lot of fields, from physical security, to infosec, to all sorts of operational environments military and civilian, once technical or engineering solutions become sufficiently robust and powerful, people tend to let the old-school skills atrophy. 99 times out of 100, sure, maybe 999 out of 1000, or more, everything is hunky-dory, but that one time when the Flux Capacitor goes belly up and no one is watching the old analog gauge thingy that is now covered in dust, that’s when it hits the fan.

Hell, you already see it in driving, all the time.