More officers relieved of duty following deadly U.S. Navy collisions

USS Ronald Reagan, a key ship of Task Force 70, operating in the Phillipine Sea. U.S. Navy photo

Sept. 18 (UPI) — Two more U.S. Navy officers have been relieved of duty following the collisions of the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald with civilian ships that led to the deaths of 17 Navy sailors.

Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, commander of U.S. Seventh Fleet, ordered the relief of the commander of Task Force 70, Rear Adm. Charles Williams, and the commander of Destroyer Squadron 15, Capt. Jeffrey Bennett, “due to a loss of confidence in their ability to command.”

Commander of Task Force 76 Rear Adm. Marc Dalton has been appointed head of CTF 70 and deputy commander of DESRON 15 Capt. Jonathan Duffy will take the place of Bennett.

Task Force 70 is the Navy’s largest and most powerful operational group. DESRON 15 is the attached destroyer formation that is responsible for surface warfare and naval missile defense for the region.

The Fitzgerald collided with a Philippino cargo vessel off Japan on June 17, killing seven sailors, and the McCain collided with a Liberian container ship near Singapore on Aug. 25, killing 10 sailors.

The two fatal accidents follow a year of incidents involving Japan-based surface warfare vessels. In May, the Ticonderoga-class USS Lake Champlain was hit by a South Korean fishing boat. In January, the cruiser USS Antietem ran aground while weighing anchor off the coast of Japan, leading to major damage to the ship’s propulsion.

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